Category Archives: Rogue States

Image Of Israeli F-35 Flying Off Beirut (With Radar Reflectors) As Well As More Details About The Adir’s First Strikes Emerge

A photograph of an Israeli Air Force F-35 flying (more or less..) “over” Beirut has been made public. Interestingly, the image seems to prove the stealthy aircraft was flying with radar reflectors.

As reported yesterday, the Israeli Air Force F-35 stealth aircraft have had their baptism of fire taking part in air strike in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately. “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” the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world. Interestingly, Norkin also presented an image showing an IAF F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon that was not released in first place but surfaced on social media on May 23.

Here it is:

The somehow blurry image is interesting for at least a couple of reasons: first of all, it shows the aircraft flying at high altitude off (rather than “over”) Beirut. Second, it seems to show that the aircraft was also operating with radar reflectors (highlighted in the image below), hence not in “stealthy mode”:

Highlighted in a screenshot from Israel Television News Company one of the F-35’s four radar reflectors.

Here’s what radar reflectors, also known as RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers, are as explained in a previous article this Author posted here at The Aviationist earlier this year:

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] the Russians 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 as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

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).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area

The two radar reflectors installed on the right side of the F-35. The other two are on the other side.

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

According to Nir Dvori, the journalist who first published the image of the stealth aircraft off Beirut seemingly flying with RCS enhancers, “they test [the F-35] in all kind of options. Fly with and without reflectors”. Indeed, the use of RCS enhancers would simply mean that stealthiness was not required for that specific mission during which they preferred to hide the aircraft’s stealth features preventing the enemy to collect data about the aircraft and test their radar hardware against the Lightning II. Moreover, the F-35 appears to be flying off Lebanon, accompanied by another aircraft (the photo ship), possibly another F-35 or a completely different type – even a G550 like those that continuously fly off Lebanon and Syria and are trackable by means of their Mode-S transponders. This means that the photo might well have been taken during a simple “recon” mission rather than a combat one. Meanwhile, according to Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer:

Not all the missions that the F-35 has so far carried out needed this [stealth] capability. They took part in an airstrike on a Hamas tunnel on the border of the Gaza Strip. Hamas does not have radar, but F-35s were used on this relatively simple mission as part of the process through which its proves it various capabilities. More complex operations against Iranian and Hezbollah targets north of Israel would have utilized its stealth capabilities and some of these did not necessarily involve the F-35 launching missiles itself.

Therefore, it seems confirmed that:

  1. Not all F-35 missions required stealth capabilities
  2. The Adir jets were also used against “easy” targets
  3. The F-35s have taken part in missions during those the Adir did not drop bombs (therefore, it probably acted as “combat battlefield coordinator,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence possibly sharing targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft).
  4. The image seems to prove the F-35 have flown at high-altitude off Beirut (someone says it might have been in international airspace, 12 Nautical Miles from the coast, when the shot was taken, but this can’t be verified based on the screenshot only).

Disclaimer: to our knowledge and based on the sources available on the Internet, those four bumps highlighted in the images you can find in this post are indeed radar reflectors. Several magazines and publications also refer to them as RCS enhancers or Luneberg lenses. Still, if we are wrong and these are EW signal emitters as someone claims, please let us know. Furthermore, the top image is a screenshot from a slide presented during a IAF conference not an actual photograph.

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!