Category Archives: Rogue States

Interesting Image Shows Saudi F-15S Strike Eagle With DB-110 Tactical Reconnaissance Pod Taking Off For OIR Mission

The Royal Saudi Air Force F-15S aircraft have used the tactical recon pod for missions over Yemen and Syria.

The photos in this post show a RSAF F-15S, belonging to the 92nd Sqn/3rd Flying Wing, taking off from King Abdulaziz AFB, reportedly for a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led anti-ISIL campaign in Syria and Iraq. As you can see, the aircraft carry a Goodrich DB-110 reconnaissance pod.

As part of a contract awarded in 2012 to Goodrich (now UTC Aerospace Systems) from the U.S. Air Force for the RSAF F-15S modernisation program, the Saudi were supplied ten dual-band recce pods for real-time, long-range, high-resolution, video imagery reconnaissance as well as five fixed, transportable and mobile ground exploitation stations. Along with the hardware, the RSAF also got training and logistics support services for the start up and integration of the new equipment with the Saudi Eagle fleet.

RSAF F-15S departs for a recce mission in support of OIR. (Image credit: @RayanRashed0)

According to the vendor, the DB-110 is a dual-band 110-inch focal length reconnaissance system that is capable of producing high-resolution imagery from nadir to a stand-off range of 80-plus nautical miles, day or night.  Developed as a derivative of the strategic Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS) sensor on the USAF U-2, the DB-110 can collect more than 10,000 square miles of high-resolution imagery per hour and serves as the cornerstone of many air forces’ tactical and strategic ISR capabilities. It is currently in service with 14 nations on multiple platforms, including the F-16, F-15, P-3, MQ-9, Tornado (RAPTOR) and modified Global Express aircraft. Earlier this year, UTC Aerospace Systems, was awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with an initial ceiling of $22.9 million from the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for the DB-110 Airborne Reconnaissance Systems destined to multiple countries via the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.



The real-time segment of the pod is provided by a datalink capability that allows the aircraft, when it comes into line-of-sight range of the receiving
equipment, to transmit the acquired imagery. Obviously, when the aircraft is out of range, or if immediate download is not required, the collected imagery is stored internally using a highspeed solid-state recorder.

One may wonder why, in the age of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), tactical jets still conduct reconnaissance mission. The answer is that the DB-110/F-15 duo may conduct peace time cross-border surveillance from international airspace, or during times of conflict, quickly transit through contested airspace to conduct time-sensitive tactical-reconnaissance missions that would require more time with a drone. Moreover, the integration of the pod on some platforms enable the DB-110 to cooperate with the aircraft’s other sensors, such as Synthetic Aperture Radar and signals intelligence, thereby producing multilayer intelligence products and a more holistic view of the battlespace.

DB-110 (UTC Aerospace Systems).

Although some photographs of the F-15S carrying the pod had already emerged, you won’t find many images of the Saudi Eagles with the DB-110 but according to our sources, there are plenty of unpublished shots with the pod awaiting to be cleared.

Noteworthy, an image that had appeared in June 2018 depicts the very same aircraft (#9203) carrying the pod allegedly during a mission over Yemen.

Image credit: @RayanRashed0. H/T to Mohamed Khaled (@MbKS15) for providing additional details about the shot.

Yet Another Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 Insane Low Pass Video Emerges

Pair of Su-25M1s flying ultra-low altitude in a new video.

It’s pretty obvious: Ukrainian Air Force pilots fly low quite often and new videos showing a Ukrainian jet buzzing someone at airbases around the country appear regularly.

On Sept. 30 we have posted a clip of a Su-24M Fencer buzzing the flight line at an airbase in Ukraine, probably Starokostiantyniv or “Staro”, the main operating base of exercise Clear Sky 2018. The footage was particularly impressive as the Su-24 flew over a bunch of other Fencers parked on a ramp by matter of a few meters.

Previously we had posted the clip of a MiG-29 performing a show of force onpro-Russia separatist blocking rails; the one of an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); another showing a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; the one of a Su-27 Flanker performing a low pass right after take off; and a Su-24MR tactical reconnaissance aircraft again flying low over the flight line at Starokostiantyniv.



The latest one is a footage showing two Su-25M1 flying low over a taxiway. It’s not clear when it was filmed nor where. However, considered the number of Il-76MD cargo aircraft that you can see in the clip, it could well be Melitopol airbase, in southeastern Ukraine, home of the 25th Transport Aviation Brigade. The Su-25M1 Frogfoot jets were probably operating out of Mykolaiv/Kulbakino airbase, to the west of Melitopol, home of the 299th Tactical Aviation Brigade.

As a side note, as already reported here at The Aviationist, the Ukrainian Air Force in currently supporting Ex. Clear Sky 2018. During the drills, the service suffered the loss of a Su-27UB1M “70 Blue” on Oct. 16. The aircraft crashed  near the village of Ulanov, Ukraine, killing Col. Petrenko Ivan Nikolaevichand, deputy commander of aviation – the chief of aviation air command “East” of the Air Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and Lt. Col. Seth “Jethro” Nehring, 194th Fighter Squadron pilot, flying in the backseat of the Su-27 Flanker.

H/T @Avalencia_Alfa for the heads-up!

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Connects To HIMARS For Rocket Shot In a “Direct Sensor-to-Shooter” Scenario

Using Datalink, an F-35B shared target data with an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). 5th Gen. aircraft increasingly used to shorten the “sensor-to-shooter” cycle.

According to Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, the U.S. Marine Corps have achieved a milestone when a target was destroyed by connecting an F-35B Lightning II aircraft with a HiMARS rocket shot for the first time.

“We were able to connect the F-35 to a HIMARS, to a rocket shot … and we were able to target a particular conex box,” Rudder told audience members Friday at an aviation readiness discussion at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, or CSIS, Marine Corps Times reported.

The integration occurred during Marines’ latest weapons and tactics course at Yuma, Arizona: the F-35 gathered the target location using its high-end onboard sensors and shared the coordinates of the target to the HIMARS system via datalink in a “sensor to shooter” scenario. The HIMARS unit then destroyed the target.

The HIMARS is a movable system that can be rapidly deployed by air, using a C-130 Hercules. It carries six rockets or one MGM-140 ATACMS missile on the U.S. Army’s new Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) five-ton truck, and can launch the entire Multiple Launch Rocket System Family of Munitions (MFOM). In a typical scenario, a command and control post, a ship or an aircraft (in the latest test, an F-35B – the type that has just had its baptism of fire in Afghanistan) transmits the target data via a secure datalink to the HIMARS on-board launch computer. The computer then aims the launcher and provides prompt signals to the crew to arm and fire a pre-selected number of rounds. The launcher can aim at a target in just 16 seconds.

The Corps has been testing new ways to use its HIMARS lately. For instance, last fall, the Corps successfully fired and destroyed a target 70 km out on land from the deck of the amphibious transport dock Anchorage. Considered the threat posed to maritime traffic by cruise missiles fired by coastal batteries in the hands of terrorist groups and militias, the amphibious group’s ability suppress coastal defenses from long-range using artillery is important to allow Marines to come ashore.

The aim is clearly to shorten what is known as the sensor-to-shooter cycle – the amount of time it takes from when an enemy target is detected by a sensor – either human or electronic – and when it is attacked. Shortening the time is paramount in highly dynamic battlefield.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II’s assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fly a combat mission over Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2018. During this mission the F-35B conducted an air strike in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed successful by the ground force commander. The F-35B combines next-generation fighter characteristics of radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory, providing the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) significantly improved capability to approach missions from a position of strength. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

In September 2016, a live test fire demonstration involved the integration of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX 1), based in Edwards Air Force Base, with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture. The test was aimed at assessing the ability to shoot down incoming cruise missiles.

The F-35B acted as an elevated sensor (to detect an over-the-horizon threat as envisaged for the F-22) that sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship (LLS-1), a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target. Indeed, increasingly, 5th generation aircraft are seen as tools to provide forward target identification for both defensive and offensive systems (such as strike missiles launched from surface warships or submerged submarines). Back in 2013, PACAF commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle described the ability of advanced aircraft, at the time the F-22, to provide forward targeting through its sensors for submarine based TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles).



In the following years, the stealthy F-22s, considered “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft”, saw their main role in the war on Daesh evolving into something called “kinetic situational awareness”: in Syria and Iraq, the Raptors escorted the strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. To make it simple, during Operation Inherent Resolve, the 5th generation aircraft’s pilot leverages advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then shares the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. Something the F-35 will also have to do in the near future.

Top image: “artwork” made using USMC images

U.S. Air Force F-15C Jets Have Just Started Historic First Deployment To Ukraine

The F-15C from the California Air National Guard are taking part in Exercise “Clear Sky 2018”.

On Oct. 6, 2018, U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles, belonging to the 194th Fighting Squadron of the 144th Fighter Wing, California ANG, from California Air National Guard Base Fresno, California, landed for the first time ever on Ukrainian soil.

The aircraft deployed to Starokostiantyniv, an airbase to the west of Kiev, home where the Su-24M Fencers of the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade.

The U.S. F-15s are taking part in Clear Sky 2018, a multinational exercise that will see the participation of 950 military from 9 countries, with assets distributed across several bases, both in Ukraine and Poland.

One of the F-15Cs taxiing after landing in Ukraine.

The drills will focus on the air-to-ground scenarios with AI (air interdiction) and CAS (Close Air Support) missions, as wll as air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyber defense and personnel recovery.

According to a recent article published by Air Force Times, California ANG F-15s and Ukrainian fighters will operate out of Starokostiantyniv Air Base, California ANG C-130s and Ukrainian transport aircraft will operate out of Vinnytsia Air Base, and additional Ukrainian fighter aircraft will fly out of Ivano-Frankivsk. The tanker support will be provided by Illinois ANG KC-135s out of Powidz Air Base, Poland, and KC-135s from the active duty component flying from RAF Mildenhall, England. The unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone that have recently started operations from Poland, will also take part in the exercise launching from Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland. JTACs from both the Pennsylvania ANG the U.K., Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands will also be supporting Clear Sky exercise, providing ground-based joint terminal attack control instructors for the close-air support portion of the exercise.



Ukraine is not NATO member, although relations with the alliance began in 1994. In 2014, following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine has been involved in a low-intensity conflict with Russian proxy forces in the east of the country, growing, as a consequence, cooperation with NATO.

Although five KC-135 tankers deployed to Lviv Danylo Halytskyi International Airport, Ukraine, in June, while U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk drones regularly overfly Donbass, Clear Sky 2018 marks the first time tactical jets operate in the country: a sign of the American and NATO commitment to increase its presence in the region or, to use the words in a press release it’s part of the “U.S. strategy to defend European Allies, enhance security in Eastern Europe and increase the level of military understanding between Allies and partners.”

USAF Eagle touches down at “Staro” airbase in Ukraine. (All images: USAF)

 

Everything We Know About The Delivery of Russian S-300 Missile Systems to Syria

Let’s analyse if and how the Syrian scenario is going to change after the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Assad.

Images and video of the first Russian S-300 battery being delivered at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria have been shared by the Russian MoD starting on Wednesday Oct. 3. The announcement of the successful delivery of the long-range missile systems had arrived on Tuesday but the photographs and clip showing the missile tubes, radar and control vehicles provided a visual confirmation of the claims.

The S-300s were delivered in response to the Israeli air strike on Sept. 17 that led to the accidental downing of a Russian Air Force Il-20M Coot spyplane mistakenly shot down by a Syrian S-200 (SA-5) missile. Although the details and real causes of the downing are still controversial, Moscow made it clear it would boost the Syrian air defense, a dense system relative to the country’s size but whose backbone is a variety of old Soviet-era SAMs. Russia threatened to  impose electronic countermeasures over Syria’s coastline, suppressing satellite navigation as well as radar and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking targets on Syrian territory.

The S-300 is a mobile air defense system that couples a radars capable to track multiple targets with long-range missiles to hit aerial targets at a distance of 150 km and an altitude up to 27,000 meters. Although well-known to the western air forces, it remains a lethal SAM system.

Syria wanted the S-300 as far back as the 1980s after the first Lebanon war, but it was forced to make do with the S-200 (SA5) system, an older system still capable to bring down an advanced F-16I Sufa on Feb. 10, 2018, when several SA-5 and SA-17 missiles were fired at seven Israeli fighter jets returning from an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Palmyra in central Syria, from which the IDF said an Iranian operator remotely piloted an Iranian drone into Israeli territory an hour earlier. In that case, the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error”: although the on-board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

As commented back then, the last time an Israeli Air Force jet had been shot down dated back to the first Lebanon War at the beginning of the ’80s and the air strikes did not cease after the Sufa loss. However, it must be remembered that Israel hasn’t had a real freedom of action over Syria since late 2015, when Russia decided to install an S-400 Triumf missile defense battery able to track the Syrian airspace as well as the vast majority of Israeli airspace. In fact, since then, Israel has coordinated its activities in Syria with Moscow.

According to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu the delivery of S-300 systems has been concluded. “It included 49 pieces of equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers,”  the MoD said to TASS News Agency. “We have finished personnel recruitment and have begun to train them,” said Shoigu, adding that it would take the Syrian army at least three months to learn how to use the system. It’s fair to assume that the Russians will operate the S-300s during the training period and remain for some tipe supervising operations.

The new systems were delivered by means of AN-124 Condor flights. An unusual frequency in heavy airlifter missions to the airbase near Latakia was monitored and tracked online in the days before the official announcement, suggesting an air bridge was in progress to deliver the components required to install the first S-300 batteries: as many as 6 flights between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1.

On paper, the addition of the new SAM batteries should not affect the Israeli ability to strike Syria. Thanks to stand-off weapons, the Israeli Air Force continues to be able to hit its targets as well as the SAM sites themselves in what is called a DEAD (destruction of enemy air defenses mission) if needed.

The Israeli Air Force has already gathered knowledge on the Russian defense system when it trained against the S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system stationed in Crete during INIOXOS-2015, one the largest annual exercise of the Hellenic Air Force, during which 10 Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa were able to test evasion tactics during simulated attacks against ground targets protected by S-300 batteries.

Moreover, if conventional aircraft can be theoretically tracked (or as some media outlets stated “locked on”) by Syrian air defenses shortly after take off from their airbases in Israel, the IAF can commit its radar-evading F-35I Adir to the Syrian air strikes. Indeed, the IAF F-35s have already carried out attacks in Syria, as the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin unveiled earlier this year. “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 showing also a famous photograph of an F-35I flying off Beirut (with radar reflectors).

This is what the Author wrote back then about the F-35 Adir’s involvement in the air strikes on Syria and the inherent risks. It still applies at the current situation:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: 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.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

That said, it’s highly unlikely that Israel would attack the S-300 batteries until the Russian military operate or have those weapons under their direct control. The problem is not the system itself, but the fact that it is flying the Russian flag for some time now.

Someone has recently asked me if the presence of the S-300 is making accidental downings less likely in the crowded Syrian airspace.

The answer is: most probably yes, especially considering that Russian personnel will probably operate more modern systems (even after they are officially handed over they will probably help the Syrians) and care will be taken in properly identifying targets before firing SAMs at them (the use of “transit corridors”, reviewed radar and radio procedures will be probably implemented among the Russian-Syrian teams as well). At the same time, advanced notifications will be probably used wisely, in order to prevent other incidents that could escalate tensions even more.

That said it must be reminded that the situation over Syria will remain volatile.

Yes, there are far busier areas in the Middle East as well as the rest of the World, where the concentration of civilian aircraft is higher. Open Source analysis on flight tracking websites or apps (using ADS-B/Mode-S as I have often explained here) can just give a rough idea of the situation because it provides insights into the civil part of the story. If you observe the traffic flying over Syria using Flightradar24 at any time (you can use the playback feature to monitor flights on a large period of time with speed up to 120x) you will probably only spot some civilian traffic flying in the southwestern part of the country/east of Damascus: the airspace is mainly interested by airliners belonging to the Syrian Air, Iraqi Airways, Fly Baghdad and Cham Wings Airlines flying to/from the Syrian capital. Sometimes you’ll see an airliner crossing the airspace to the North of Damascus: these are usually civilian flights heading to Beirut. Another corridor, mainly used by aircraft heading north departing from Damascus roughly runs along the country’s eastern border. You can have an idea of the corridors used by civil traffic these days here.

Using OSINT tools we don’t get a sense of how many military flights operate over there. Besides the Russian airlifters trailing other aircraft or delivering “goods” to Latakia, and the spyplanes that operate in the eastern Med off Syria and Lebanon, little can be tracked on Flightradar24.com or other public domain flight tracking websites. But we know that there are other tactical as well as intelligence gathering (manned and unmanned) aircraft flying over Syria, both Russian, Syrian and belonging to the US-led coalition. And we also know that, every now and then, combat aircraft from different countries, not operating/cooperating under the same management/coordination and possibly using different procedures as well as ROE (Rules Of Engagement), operate in proximity one another (or close to civilian aircraft).

Deconfliction hotlines between US and Russia and between Russia and Israel have helped avoiding direct clashes (although there have been some tense close encounters in the near past before the Il-20 was downed) but the risk of human-induced accidents remains.

Top image credit: composite created using IAF/Reddit/Russian MOD/FR24.com images