Category Archives: Rogue States

Check Out This Video Of U.S. Marine F-35B Jets Refueling Over the Middle East.

A Look Back at the F-35Bs deployed to the Middle East on the 243rd Birthday of the USMC.

Today is the 243rd Anniversary of the United States Marine Corps. The Marines were born on November 10, 1775 as an elite maritime-capable combat force by the Second Continental Congress with the decree:

“That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.”

In observance of this anniversary it’s worth watching this video of USMC F-35B Lightning IIs refueling from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 somewhere over the Middle East during the first U.S. combat deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. We have already published shots taken during that very same sortie, highlighting the presence of the gun pod under the fuselage.

The video of the USMC F-35Bs was shot by USAF Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs on September 15, 2018.

Shooting video from a KC-135 Stratotanker of the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, the USMC F-35Bs of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit take on fuel somewhere over the Middle East using the drogue system on the KC-135 boom.

Because of the position of the lift-fan on the F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant the aircraft does not have the refueling receptacle on top of the fuselage as with the F-35A, so the Marines use the hose and drogue method. You can see in the video that sometimes it gets tricky staying on the drogue as an F-35B bobs up and down taking on fuel. Another F-35B is seen on the drogue with a significant amount of fuel vapor streaming into the air just above the right intake.

The USMC deployment was the first time the U.S. deployed F-35Bs to the Middle East as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group or ARG. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is also the first combat-deployed MEU to operate the F-35B Lighting II. This is also the first-ever combat deployment of a supersonic STOVL aircraft in aviation history since the Israelis, who debuted the F-35A in combat in the Middle East, fly a conventional take-off and landing variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

On Sept. 27, 2018 U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters hit insurgent targets in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. The mission, flown by an undisclosed number of aircraft from USS Essex but, interestingly, at least two aircraft, modex CF-00 and CF-01, made a stopover in Kandahar Air Field after the air strike before returning to the aircraft carrier.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B taxi to the runway at KAF the morning after conducting the first air strike in Afghanistan.

The aircraft carried the external gun pod along with the two upper Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors.

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I have made an interesting and geeky discovery today analyzing the shots of the USMC F-35B deployed for the first time near the Horn of Africa (article at Therefore, during normal peacetime activities, the F-35B uses radar reflectors (unless it has to remain stealthy – during the first days of a war): 3 reflectors (2 in the upper rear fuselage, 1 centerline in the lower rear fuselage – the one underneath the fuselage can be seen in the bottom image) as opposed to the F-35A (middle photo) that wears 4 ones (2 upper side and 2 lower side). However, when it carries the external GAU-22 gun pod, the F-35B carries only 2 upper side radar reflectors (you can only see one of these in the top image): most probably the external pod degrades the RCS so much no additional reflector is needed. #theaviationist #f35 #f35b #stealth #radarreflector

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On Sept. 28, a U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter crashed near Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, South Carolina on the U.S. East Coast. The pilot ejected from the aircraft. The incident led to a temporary stand down of the worldwide fleet, on Oct. 12, 2018 for safety inspections of their fuel flow systems.

Check Out This New Video of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 Doing A Low-Level Photo Shoot

Russia’s Newest Fifth Generation Fighter Dances Behind An-12 In Unique Photo-Op.

Great video of Russia’s latest Sukhoi Su-57 fighters emerged early this week from what appears to be a media flight somewhere over Russia.

Most of the video is shot from the back of an Antonov An-12 turboprop. As is common practice in aerial photo flights in an open ramp aircraft, photographers and videographers are working behind a safety net and wear harnesses and lanyards attached inside the An-12 to prevent falling out the open back cargo ramp. From the videos published so far, it looks like there is a mix of still and video photographers, likely from various Russian media, on board the An-12 for the photo flight.

The Su-57s in the photo shoot wear the newer pixelated camouflage schemes. The first aircraft has a slightly different pixelated white/blue camouflage tone. One aircraft is darker than other. The new paint scheme on some of the Su-57s is presumably to reduce the ability to visually acquire the aircraft from the ground or from other aircraft within visual range. This first aircraft wears “bort” or aircraft number 054. Photos of this Su-57 have appeared regularly on Russian plane spotters’ websites like Interestingly, a previous Su-57 also wore bort 054 but in a splinter style camouflage. It is possible this aircraft may have been repainted during extensive maintenance.

There are some great shots of the Su-57’s control surfaces at work, including the interesting control surface arrangement on the wing that melds elegantly into the fuselage of the aircraft.

For a few seconds, we get a great look at bort 054’s pilot. He’s wearing what appears to be a conventional flight helmet with a mount that may be for night vision goggles. It’s also a good view of the relatively conventional layout of the Su-57 cockpit with its heads-up display and other instrumentation. It’s worth noting that, as you know, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has integrated the heads-up display symbology display into the pilot’s helmet, whereas on the Su-57 it would appear, from this video at least, there seems to be no symbology displayed within the pilot’s visor.

The second Su-57 in the video is also wearing the pixelated livery but it is difficult to see the bort number on the side of the aircraft.

The reporter inside the An-12 delivers some animated color commentary in Russian during part of the video. We’re not sure what the purpose of the Su-57 model he is holding is, and it is interesting to note that it appears most of the journalists’ equipment, including the Su-57 model, are not tethered to the journalists. In U.S. open ramp media flights a significant amount of care is taken to make sure every piece of equipment is tethered so no one drops a camera, sunglasses or anything else out the back of the aircraft that could hit the trailing planes or be ingested into the engines.

Cockpit view of Su-57 bort 054 with early splinter camouflage scheme from 2017. (Photo: Vladislav Perminov via

Facebook friend, photographer and aviation expert Mr. A.S. of Russia was kind enough to translate the reporter’s commentary for us:

“What you can see now is a very low pass, i.e. now our plane, [an] An-12, flies at 400 meters. Two T-50 [Su-57s] are 50 meters lower, i.e. at around 300 meters above the ground. And now you will see how they will literally dive under us! Watching, they are closer and closer… But it’s even not enough, you know, it’s like weightlifter each time takes more loads so it’s what now pilots of T-50 doing. We are now descending lower, we are now flying at 300 meters and now they will try again to pass under us!”

It is a pretty spectacular display, and must have been equally impressive for anyone on the ground lucky enough to see the aircraft fly over. At one point late in the video, possible as they return to the airfield they flew from, a lone Su-27 two-seat aircraft briefly appears in frame, possibly as another camera aircraft on the media flight.

While the Su-57 has been flying for well over seven years now the program has been a focus of frequent speculation. The most recent news suggests Russia is pressing ahead with the program after a test deployment of two aircraft to Syria, engine changes and other developments. Most of the video we’ve seen has been shot from the ground with the exception of some video shot from other aircraft. This new video is one of the better in-flight photo ops of the interesting new Sukhoi Su-57 making it work a look and share.

We’re not quite sure what purpose the model Su-57 serves, but we’re glad the reporter didn’t drop it. (Photo: Screen Grab via YouTube)

Top image: Screen Grab via YouTube.

Here’s The Video Of The Russian Su-27 That Performed An Unsafe Intercept On A U.S. EP-3E Aircraft Earlier Today

Another “ordinary day” of Cold War over the Black Sea.

A U.S. EP-3E Aries aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-27 on Nov. 5, 2018.

According to the U.S. Navy 6th Fleet, “this interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-27 conducting a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk. The intercepting SU-27 made an additional pass, closing with the EP-3 and applying its afterburner while conducting a banking turn away. The crew of the EP-3 reported turbulence following the first interaction, and vibrations from the second. The duration of the intercept was approximately 25 minutes.”

“While the Russian military is within its right to exercise within international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents, including the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA). Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and potential for midair collisions.

The U.S. aircraft was operating in accordance with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.”

Here’s the video. It’s not clear whether this is the closest one of the EP-3 intelligence gathering plane.

This is not the first time such close encounters occur. Another similar one happened at the beginning of the year, on Jan. 29, 2018, when a U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 over the Black Sea.

Here’s what we wrote back then about these alleged unprofessional intercept maneuvers performed by Russian or Chinese fighters on U.S. spyplanes. It’s useful as it recalls the previous interactions all around the world.

This is not the first time a Chinese or Russian fighter pilot performs a Top Gun-like stunt or aggressively maneuvers close to a U.S. aircraft.

In February 2017, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force KJ-200 and a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft were involved in what was defined by U.S. officials as an “unsafe” close encounter over the South China Sea.

Last year, on Apr. 29, 2016, a Russian Su-27 Flanker barrel rolled over the top of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft operating in the Baltic Sea. The Russian jet came within 25 feet of the U.S. intelligence gathering aircraft.

Another Su-27 had carried out the same dangerous maneuver on another US Rivet Joint over the Baltic on Apr. 14, 2016.

Previously, on Jan. 25, 2016 another U.S. RC-135 intelligence gathering jet was intercepted over the Black Sea by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that made an aggressive turn that disturbed the controllability of the RC-135.

On Apr. 7, 2015 another Su-27 flew within 20 feet of an RC-135U over the Baltic Sea.

On Apr. 23, 2015 a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that crossed the route of the U.S. aircraft putting itself within 100 feet of the Combat Sent.

In 2014, a Chinese Flanker made a barrel roll over a U.S. Navy P-8 maritime surveillance plane 135 miles east of Hainan Island, a spot where a dangerous close encounter of another U.S. electronic surveillance plane with the Chinese Navy took place back in 2001: on Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters. One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.

The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.

Russian Navy Tu-142 Flies “Over” USS Mount Whitney involved in Ex. Trident Juncture in the Norwegian Sea

A Russian Navy Tu-142 Bear-F long-range maritime patrol reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft made a “surprise visit” to the USS Mount Whitney, off the Norwegian coast.

Sailors aboard the Blue Ridge-class command ship of the U.S. Navy USS Mount Whitney had gathered for a group photo on deck, when a Tupolev TU-142, RF-34063 / 56 RED based on AFP photographs, flying in international airspace, soared more or less overhead, on Nov. 2, 2018.

USS Mount Whitney is involved in Exercise Trident Juncture, NATO’s largest such drills in 20 years which runs through Nov. 7 and simulate an Art. 5 response to an armed attack against one ally. Needless to say, Russia has already made public its displeasure over the exercise that is considers an anti-Russian show of force. Consequently, Moscow announced plans to perform rocket test firings in the basin of the Norwegian Sea, from Nov. 1-3.

Along with the missile tests in an area close to TJ exercise, on Oct. 31, Russia said two of its Tu-160 strategic bombers carried out a 10-hour routine mission over the Barents and Norwegian seas. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO drills would continue as planned. “I don’t expect that that will cause any serious problems, but as I said we will follow the movement of the Russian maritime capabilities closely, and they are informed about our exercise, so we do whatever we can to avoid any dangerous situation.”

Nothing dramatic then, if it wasn’t for the type of the Russian aircraft involved in the latest close encounter: a Tu-142MZ (based on the presence of the chin fairings) the last production variant of the “Bear F”, with new NK-12MP engines and a new avionics suite, a variant dubbed Bear-F Mod. 4 rarely spotted in that area. Last year we posted a video of a Tu-142MK filmed by a Royal Danish Air Force F-16. According to the RDAF the Russian Navy aircraft had only been seen in the area a few times earlier. In fact, the majority of the missions flown by the Russians over the Baltic Sea or around northern Europe involve long-range strategic bombers, such as the Tu-95 Bear and the Tu-22M Backfire.

According to “Russia’s Warplanes, Volume 2” by Piotr Butowski published by Harpia Publishing, one of the most authoritative sources on Russian-made military aircraft and helicopters today, the Russia’s Naval Aviation has two Tu-142 squadrons, one with Tu-142MK (NATO reporting name Bear-F Mod. 3) aircraft at Kipelovo-Fedotovo and one with Tu-142MZ (Bear-F Mod. 4) at Mongoktho.

The Tu-142MK and MZ are both able to carry a maximum of 9,000 kg (19,842lb) weapons load inside two fuselage weapons bays, with options including three torpedoes (the rocket-propelled APR-2/APR-3, or the electric AT-2M or UMGT-1) or depth charges (such as the Zagon/Zagon-2 guided charges and nuclear depth charges), mines and sonobuoys. The typical loadout of a Tu-142MK comprises 3x torpedoes and 66x RGB-75, 44x RGB-15, 10x RGB-25 and 15 RGB-55 sonobuoys.

By the way, the presence of the Russian Navy aircraft off Norway was the reason for the scramble of Royal Air Force QRA Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth as well as Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s from Bodo:

Top image: AFP photo/Jonathan Nackstrand

New Aircraft Carriers, New Camouflage schemes, New Flying Boat and New Drones for China.

Carrier Trials Surge Ahead as China Builds Capability. Zhuhai Airshow Surprises.

China continues to emerge as the most dynamic region for defense program development and introductions among the superpowers. In October, photos of their aircraft carrier development and preparations for ongoing sea trials have surfaced; their advanced interceptor claiming to have low-observable capability has reemerged with a new camouflage scheme in an operational unit; they have flown a new long range flying boat amphibious aircraft and shown a new armed, long range remotely piloted aircraft. There are even frequent reports (some of those have been denied already) of a new low-observable strategic heavy bomber ahead of the U.S. unveiling of their new B-21 Raider long range stealth bomber.

All of this new development continues the conversation about China expanding military ambitions beyond their borders in regions such as Africa, the Middle East and even South and Central America. These ambitions add to their ongoing power projection in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.

Perhaps the most significant development is the potential return to a strategic nuclear role for the PLAAF, China’s air force. China’s air delivered nuclear capability has reportedly advanced recently after it was abandoned in the 1980s when China only had air delivered nuclear gravity bombs.

In a September 6, 2018 feature on, analysts Ankit Panda and Prashanth Parameswaran reported that, “The PLAAF once again has a nuclear mission, although we don’t know what that is”. The analysts suggested that an air launched ballistic missile may be an emerging technology China is developing. The missile, thought to be a new version of the CJ-20K long range cruise missile, currently has the capability to strike targets at a range of 1,080 nautical miles (2,000 kilometers) with a conventional warhead after being launched from China’s legacy Xian H-6K heavy bomber.

For the first time ever in early May, 2018, the PLAAF flew Xian H-6K heavy bombers to the disputed Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago. The Paracel archipelago, also called “Xisha” by the Chinese, is a disputed chain of low-lying islands in the South China Sea. Although China has maintained a military presence there since 1974 when they forcibly evicted Vietnam, the Taiwanese and Vietnamese both still lay claim to the islands. A Pentagon statement from U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said the May landing of Chinese heavy bombers in the island chain is evidence of “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea.”

The 2018 edition of China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong, will take place in just a few days from November 6-11, 2018. Photographers already at the show venue have shared a feast of interesting images in social media including photos of the Chengdu J-20A “Mighty Dragon” in a completely new operational camouflage scheme.

The Chengdu J-20As seen at the show are claimed “fifth generation” twin engine, single seat air superiority fighters with a distinctive canard, delta wing and twin tail configuration. They are reported to be operated by the172th Brigade based at the FTTB (Airbase) at Cangzhou according to expert analyst Andreas Rupprecht who maintains the Modern Chinese Warplanes page on Facebook and publishes a series of authoritative reference guides about Chinese military aircraft (and many others) through Harpia Publishing.

Several J-20A Mighty Dragons arrived ahead of the Zhuhai Airshow with brand new paint schemes. (Photo: Hunter Chen Photos via Twitter and Facebook.)

Rupprecht noted that two of the J-20A aircraft wore serial numbers 78231 and 78232. He also pointed out that the aircraft previously had an angular “splinter” style camouflage scheme but now have a new, rounded pattern camouflage livery.

In conjunction with the timing of the Zhuhai Airshow, Rupprecht’s Harpia Publishing has just released their latest reference book, “Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Air Force – Aircraft and Units”.

Other unique aircraft photographed arriving at Zhuhai for the 2018 China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition include a unique J-10B prototype aircraft number ‘1034’ modified to with a special thrust vectoring engine nozzle. The modification is likely a test version according the Andreas Rupprecht that has been retrofitted onto the existing WS-10 jet engine.

A unique new version of the J-10B with thrust vectoring arrived at Zhuhai Airshow early this week. (Photo: via Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook.)

China’s naval aviation program also arcs forward into a rapidly developing and ambitious future with their aircraft carriers. On October 28, 2018, the new, unnamed Type 002 aircraft carrier sailed away from its construction and maintenance facility at Dalian, China for its third sea trial. Andreas Rupprecht observed on his Modern Chinese Warplanes page on Facebook (Author’s note: this page is worth “Liking”) that the ship’s flight deck had been cleaned and possibly prepared for flight deck trials during this current shakedown cruise.

Of equal interest is a photo that surfaced on Google Earth that is only a few weeks old, taken on September 22, 2018, showing the two Chinese aircraft carriers sitting side-by-side in their maintenance and construction yard in Dalian. Dalian is a modern, rapidly growing port city on the Liaodong Peninsula, at the southern tip of China’s Liaoning Province.

Two Chinese carriers in the Dalian Shipyard. (Photo: via Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook.)

Video of the new AVIC AG600 Kunlong flying boat making its first ever waterborne take-off and landing were posted to YouTube on October 20, 2018. The impressive four-engine turboprop aircraft is intended for the long range maritime patrol, reconnaissance, search and rescue mission. It is said to be capable of operating in sea state 3 conditions, or waves as high as 6.6-feet (2 meters). With its projected range of 2,796 miles (4,500 km), the AG600 flying boat can reach the contested islands in the outlying regions of China’s sea.

In addition to global power projection in their own interests, an aim of China’s emerging new military aviation push is the export market. In early October 2018, the sale of 48 new Wing Loong II armed, remotely piloted aircraft to Pakistan was announced.

According to analyst Shaurya Karanbir Gurung of India’s Economic Times in a story published on October 10, 2018, “The Wing Loong II is an improved version of the Wing Loong 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Falling in the category of Medium Altitude Long Endurance, it is manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company. The UAV has been developed primarily for People’s Liberation Army Air Force and export. The concept of the Wing Loong II was unveiled at the Aviation Expo China in Beijing in September 2015.”

And finally, and perhaps most interestingly, news about an entirely new, long range low observable Chinese heavy bomber has surfaced. According to some reports, the program is claimed to be significantly advanced in its development. The Hong-20 is tipped as China’s new long-range strategic stealth bomber. Official Chinese media has released concept images of the aircraft after teasing shapes earlier in the year in what appeared to be a direct parody of a video touting the upcoming U.S. bomber, the B-21 Raider.

A rendering of what China claims is the new Hong-20 low-observable long range bomber. (Photo: via Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook.)

Defense reported that, “The Hong-20 official unveiling could be slated for next month’s Zhuhai Air show though there is no confirmation of it as yet.” The report went on to reveal that Russian media outlet Rossiyskaya Gazeta claimed the Hong-20 bomber has been under development at the Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute in China since 2008.

Conceptual artwork from earlier this year of new Hong-20 low-observable long range bomber. (Photo: via Andreas Rupprecht/Rupprecht_A on Twitter)

Many casual observers of China’s defense and aviation programs have been cynical of China’s ability to produce truly advanced high-end, reliable new military technologies that may compete with western technology. Because of lingering dogma about China’s mass manufacturing being comprised largely of knock-offs from western technology mimicked quickly at lower cost and lower quality by legions of near-slave laborers, this mistaken stereotype has lingered. Anyone who has visited China recently knows this country has vaulted into a new era of economic, technological and now, military development. Given that China is the country that invented gunpowder and revolutionized warfare, any country that underestimates China’s new capabilities does so at their own peril.

Top image: Two of the J-20A Mighty Dragons arrived ahead of the Zhuhai Airshow with brand new paint schemes. (Photo: via Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook)