Category Archives: Rogue States

Will Russia Ever Develop an Equivalent to the U.S. Light Attack Experiment?

Could Russia Develop A Turboprop Light Combat Aircraft? Most probably, no. But discussion brings some weird concepts to light…

An obscure Russian language news story briefly appeared in social media earlier this week that raised an interesting question: why isn’t Russia more vigorous in developing their own light attack aircraft program, especially for export? The article featuring conceptual renderings of Russian light attack concepts was published on the Russian language website “Aviator.Guru” on July 16, 2018. It was shared on the Russian aviation Facebook page “BKC России”.

The Aviation.Guru article showed renderings of what early developmental concepts for Russian manufactured light attack aircraft could look like. Although fictional, the images are interesting set against the backdrop of Russia’s involvement with anti-insurgent warfare in Syria, increasing need for defense export products and the U.S. Light Attack Experiment.

Counterinsurgency aircraft concepts like the one shown in this rendering have appeared on the Internet recently (Credit: AviatorGuru)

While images of Russian conceived light attack aircraft have been circulated among design schools and even aircraft manufacturers for five decades, Russia has never funded or progressed a large-scale project beyond the conceptual design/illustration phase. This seems odd, given the country’s increased emphasis on military export to countries with smaller defense budgets involved in anti-insurgent campaigns. Perhaps the trend is about to change.

Russia has been more conspicuous about very large aircraft projects, most notably the PAK-FA development that yielded the Sukhoi Su-57, a program that, as confirmed by several sources, including a July 12, 2018 report by Business Insider’s Alex Lockie, has now been scaled back considerably from full production. Russia has even teased an ambitious “PAK-DA” stealth bomber concept, even less likely to reach full-scale development than the now reportedly-struggling Su-57 program given budgetary concerns. Both these fiscally driven scale-backs seem to point the direction of Russia’s growing export tactical aircraft industry in the direction of light attack.

Light attack has been a big trend for western defense manufacturers. After ambitious progress in the U.S and operational deployment of Afghan light attack aircraft, the U.S. recently halted their ongoing Light Attack Experiment conducted largely from Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The effort was intended to evaluate not just new aircraft for the light, counter-insurgency role but also to assess new ways for the Air Force to streamline some future acquisition programs. The project was put on hold pending an investigation into a fatal accident on June 22, 2018 that claimed the life of U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Christopher Carey Short. The U.S. Air Force has said they remain dedicated the to the light attack concept.

Light attack aircraft, especially turboprops, are conspicuously absent from both Russia’s own air force and their export offerings to nation states that buy tactical aircraft from Russia. Given Russia’s involvement in the Syrian anti-insurgency and the influence of the Russian military aviation industry throughout Africa and Asia, an inexpensive, easily maintained light attack turboprop counterinsurgency aircraft that could operate from austere forward airfields could theoretically be a good seller for Russia’s growing export military aviation industry.

Russia’s current light strike capability is distributed across rotary wing assets like the Kamov Ka-50/52, Mil Mi-28 and the venerable Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters and two jet types, the successful Sukhoi Su-25, more analogous to the large U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the more modern Yakovlev Yak-130, currently employed by Russia as an advanced trainer but also suited for the light attack role.

Russia’s Yak-130 advanced jet trainer has been demonstrated with heavy weapons load and could be employed in the light-attack role (Image credit: Irkut)

The July 16, 2018 “Aviator.Guru” article initially discusses a need for easily maintained light attack aircraft to be used after a larger, primarily jet, air force is degraded in a large scale nuclear conflict. The article goes on to suggest, [translation]:

“If you correlate the date of the appearance of the program and the requirements for it, it becomes clear that [it is not] a post-apocalypse attack plane, but an ordinary anti-guerrilla aircraft (also COIN – a coupon-insurgency aircraft). Representatives of this class of aviation showed themselves well in Vietnam and over Latin America. No less useful they would be for the USSR in Afghanistan.”

One of the most bizarre renderings featured a pusher contra-rotating propeller system. (Credit: Aviator.Guru)

It would appear that the renderings featured originally in the article were prepared as concepts in a design school and/or think-tank feasibility study. Portions of the study date back to the Soviet-era during the 1980s:

[Translation] “Various late versions of the LVSH [“Light Attack Experimental Program”] of the late 80’s and early 90’s: The flying prototype of the LVS never started to be built – neither in the late 80’s, nor even more so in the early 90’s. With the collapse of the Union, all the chances for the appearance of this machine in metal disappeared, but the flow of creativity could not be stopped. The models of storm troopers [aircraft concepts] surprised visitors of various exhibitions with courageous decisions – but they did not cause any interest. Too expensive, too complicated to manufacture and operate. There was no money for them in their home country.”

The translation suggests that budgetary concerns limited the former Soviet Union’s exploration of a light attack/reconnaissance/forward air control turboprop analogous to the U.S. OV-10 Bronco and A-1 Skyraider of the 1950s and 1960s.

One version of a Russian light attack aircraft did reach production though. The Khrunichev T-411 Aist or “Stork” first flew in November 1993. It is a light, high-wing utility/surveillance/light attack/counter insurgency aircraft developed by the Russian company Aeroprogress and eventually put into production by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. There was even a version sold to the civilian general aviation market in the U.S as the Aeroprogress T-411 Wolverine powered by a Continental TSIO-550-B turboprop engine. It was even offered in kit form as the Washington T-411 Wolverine. There is little information about the production numbers or outcome of the Khrunichev T-411 program, which suggests it was largely unsuccessful.

Given the legacy of some of Russia’s rugged design concepts that have made their way into aircraft like the WWII Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik anti-tank aircraft and the later Sukhoi Su-25, the country’s design bureaus seem uniquely qualified to produce a rugged, simple to operate, highly capable light attack aircraft. But to date, other than interesting conceptual renders and a possible increase in conversation, little appears to be happening in Russia to parallel the U.S. Light Attack Experiment. At least for the moment.

Top image credit: Eugeny Polivanov/Commons

Here Are The First Photographs Of U.S. Air Force C-17 and Marine Corps KC-130J Operating From New U.S. Airfield in Northern Syria

U.S. Air Forces Central Command has just released some photographs from an “undisclosed location”: geolocation proves they are the first from a recently-built airbase in northern Syria.

CENTCOM has just published some interesting photographs of U.S. assets supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. In particular, the images depict U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J operating from an austere runway at what the official captions refer to as an “undisclosed location”.

Here is one of those images:

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130 Hercules departs from an undisclosed location, June 22, 2018. The C-130 transported personnel and supplies to another location in the area of operations in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). In conjunction with partner forces, CJTF-OIR’s mission is to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and set conditions to increase regional stability. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

However, the new images, taken between Jun. 20 and 23, 2018 and released by CENTCOM Public Affairs earlier today, were immediately geolocated by the OSINT investigator and famous Twitter user Samir (@obretix).

Therefore, those you can find in this post are, to our knowledge, the very first photographs showing operations at a new U.S./Coalition military base in Syria’s northeastern province of Al-Hasakah whose construction works were exposed by OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analysis of satellite pictures in 2017 and completion appeared to be imminent or just finished at the end of April 2018:

 

Another U.S. airfield is located in northern Syria: Sarrin. The base was built in 2016 and the first aircraft appeared to operate from there in July 2017. Here below you can find a tweet with some recent images from there:

Noteworthy, the images released today of the operations at the new airfield in Syria show an interesting KC-130J. This airframe (serial 167110), whose main role is to act as an aerial refueler, has a pretty career: back in 2010, the aircraft deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was fitted with what was been dubbed the Harvest Hawk weapons system. Along with the traditional air-to-air refueling, and cargo and troop transportation tasks, the KC-130J from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California carried out several Close Air Support missions earning many mission markings firing AGM-114K and Griffin missiles.

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130J Hercules flies over an undisclosed location after departure, June 22, 2018. The C-130 was transporting personnel and supplies to another location in Combined Joint Task Force’s area of operations. The KC-130J Hercules supports expeditionary operations by providing air-to-air refueling, rapid ground refueling and logistic support to operating forces. Tactical transportation of personnel or cargo includes aerial delivery or austere landing zone operations. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

H/T @obretix for the help in writing this article

China’s New Video of Their Naval Aviation Blows “Top Gun” Away

New Video Screams “All Your Bases Are Belong to Us” With Awesome Music, Images.

China Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the Chinese micro-blogging, social media outlet Sina Weibo are rocking the web with a new motivational video of Chinese naval air and sea power that is a pure adrenaline fix. You could say it’s the Chinese “Top Gun”, but even better. The soundtrack blows Kenny Loggins away and the choreography beats the beach volleyball scene. The only thing missing is a Chinese equivalent of Kelly McGillis, but there is still plenty here to take your breath away.

The video surfaced in mid-May on Chinese social media and made its way to Facebook via mostly the Chinese pages. Now it is trending across international social media aviation pages. It is sure to go big.

Shot on board the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (CV-16), the video is brilliantly choreographed and composed. It is set to the soundtrack song “Black Blade” from the (ironically) U.S. based soundtrack artists “Two Steps from Hell” featuring musicians and composers Thomas J. Bergersen (originally of Trondheim, Norway) and Nick Thomas of Los Angeles. The two musicians have scored over 1,000 soundtracks and film trailers. They have also produced music for video and computer games. If you’ve seen the Hollywood films, “The Dark Knight”, “Tron: Legacy” or “No Country for Old Men” then you’ve already heard their masterful soundtrack music.

The video was filmed during major naval exercises earlier this year off Hainan island in the South China Sea. The region is the scene of minor disputes between Taiwan, mainland China and even Vietnam over some small outlying islands. The recent Chinese emphasis on sea power centers on their emerging aircraft carrier program and is likely a bid to maintain and expand control in this area and project Chinese military influence around the globe.

At the same time the Chinese were shooting this killer video, spy satellites in orbit overhead were doing a little photography of their own. James Pearson and Greg Torode of Reuters news agency published satellite spy photos likely taken at the exact same time the Chinese video was being shot. Satellite imagery published by Reuters on March 27, 2018 and likely taken the day before on Monday, March 26, 2018 were obtained from Planet Labs, Inc. According to their website, Planet Labs, Inc. is a private intelligence gathering company that, “Started as a small team of physicists and engineers, and now operates the world’s largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites.”

Satellite imagery of the Chinese carrier task force appear to have been taken at the exact time the new video was being shot. (Photo: Planet Labs via Reuters).

The aircraft seen most prominently on deck of the Liaoning in this video are the Chinese J-15B “Flying Shark” multi-role fighters. The Chinese also operate a variant known as the J-11BH and J-11BSH. Based on the Sukhoi Su-27 family of tactical aircraft, the Chinese have been vigorous in testing and development of the J-15 and its minor variants since their carrier program began in earnest during 2002. While a highly capable aircraft, the J-15 Shark is currently limited in gross take-off weight from the Chinese carrier Liaoning because of their reliance on the ski-jump style Short Take-Off but Arrested Landing (STOBAR) technology. Future Chinese carriers like the recently launched Type 001A, rumored to be named Shandong, will likely be adapted to Catapult Assisted Take-Off but Arrested Landing (CATOBAR). This catapult system can launch heavier aircraft than the ski-jump system. China has even been testing electromagnetic aircraft catapults at a land-based facility for likely inclusion on future aircraft carriers.

Other aircraft showcased in the video are the Chinese H-6DU aerial tanker. The H-6DU is based on the former-Soviet Tu-16 Badger. Other versions of the H-6 carry air-launched cruise missiles for the anti-shipping role. The H-6DU, possibly from China’s 23rd Regiment, 8th Naval Aviation Division assigned to the Southern Theater Command, is refueling a pair of J-10AHs possibly of the 4th Naval Aviation Division.

Helicopters seen in the video include the Changhe Aircraft Industrial Corporation (CHAIC)
Z-8 land and ship based ASW/SAR helicopter that is based on the French SA-321Ja Super Frelon.

Despite the ongoing debate about the emerging Chinese aircraft carrier force you have to admit the production quality of this video is very good, and it suggests China is enthusiastic about the expansion of their naval air and sea power. It’s also just plain cool to watch!

Israeli Air Force Fires Patriot Missile At Drone That Approached Israel’s border with Syria

The missile launch did not result in a downing: the UAV moved away from the border and was not hit by the Patriot.

The Israeli Air Force has just confirmed it has fired a Patriot missile at an incoming drone from Syria. No direct hit was reported as the unmanned aircraft retreated back toward Syria and didn’t violate the Israeli airspace.

Footage has appeared on social media showing the smoke trail left by the missile fired by the Israeli battery.

As a side note and possibly unrelated, this is the ADS-B “picture” of the Israeli airspace minutes after the Patriot was fired. There were two IAF B707s (including one using c/s “Giant” that could be a C&C aircraft based on many reports) and one G-V Nachshon Shavit spyplane.

The “picture” of the Israeli airspace moments after the Patriot missile fired. (Credit: VR)

 

Russia’s New Tu-214ON Open Skies Surveillance Aircraft Tracked Online During Flights Over Taganrog Region

The new Tu-214ON has carried out a series of test flights in southwest Russia, close to the border with Ukraine.

Tupolev is continuing the testing of the new Tu-214ON (Otkrytoye Niebo – Open Skies), a highly modified Tu-214 airliner equipped with advanced photo and electronic sensors to peform Open Skies Treaty surveillance missions.

The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002, and currently has 34 States Parties. The Treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants with the aim to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. The Russian Air Force Russia is phasing out the An-30 and Tu-154M-ON used for Open Skies missions and replacing them with two Tu-214ON with registrations RF-64519 (ex RA-64519) and RF-64525 (ex RA-64525).

The aircraft, that performed its maiden flight in June 2011, has recently completed the first stage of certification for the Open Skies task, with missions carried out between May 21 and 29, 2018 over the Kubinka airfield: during those sorties, Russian specialists and inspectors aboard the new aircraft (that is operated by a crew that includes four flight crew and five systems operators) conducted an aerial survey of the optical test facility at the airbase located to the west of Moscow, to evaluate the digital surveillance systems along with the ground processing components. According to Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 1 by Piotr Butowski, the Tu-214ON is fitted with the M402N Ronsar side-looking radar with synthetic aperture with a range of 50 km over land and 200 km over water with a definition of 3m over land and 6-8m over water; dual-band Raduga IR scanner; a photo camera suite that includes a panoramic, a verticla and two oblique cameras; and a TV camera suite (one vertical and two oblique cameras).

Update: OSINT analyst, Jane’s (JIR) contributor and IT Security consultant Steffan Watkins contacted me to inform me and explained that the aircraft is not fitted with the SAR and that it only carries the digital electro-optical sensor OSDCAM4060, the same as the An-30B and Tu-154M LK-1. This is an extremely interesting development, considered that almost all the sources in the Public Domain say that the new aircraft is equipped with the SAR.

On Jun. 7, 15 and 16, the aircraft RF-64525, was tracked online during test flights conducted over Taganrog airfield, in southwest Russia. Since the airport is located  not far from the border with Ukraine there were some speculations the new surveillance aircraft might be involved in some intelligence gathering mission. However, considered it will complete its certification for the Treaty on Open Skies in September, it is much more likely the aircraft was “simply” performing a test flight on the airport that is home to the Taganrog Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex and is filled with Beriev aircraft: a pretty realistic “target” (probably similar to many U.S. airbases) to calibrate/evaluate the onboard sensors. Indeed, the “racetracks” flown by the Tu-214ON are mostly aligned with the runway 05/23 at Taganrog.

Taganrog airport: note the number of aircraft parked on the aprons. (Image credit: GoogleMaps).

Here are some screenshots from Flightradar24.com taken by our friend and tracking authority @CivMilAir that show the routes followed by the Tu-214ON in the last few days.

Here’s the one for Jun. 7:

Jun. 7 mission over Taganrog.

Here’s the track on Jun. 15:

The track of the Tu-214ON on Jun. 15. (Screenshot from FR24.com via @CivMilAir)

The playback of flight RF-64525 is available here.

Top image credit: Oleg Belyakov/Wiki