Category Archives: Rogue States

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

Video Shows Ukrainian Air Force Su-24MR Fencer Buzzing The Flight Line At An Airbase in Ukraine

Here’s yet another ultra-low pass of a Ukrainian combat aircraft.

The following footage was reportedly filmed in 2014. It shows a Su-24MR Fencer-E performing a low pass over the flight line at an airbase in Ukraine, most probably Starokostiantyniv (or “Staro”) where the Fencers of the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade are based.

The Su-24MR is a tactical reconnaissance aircraft that can conduct all-weather “recce” missions up to 400 km from the front line. The Soviet-era jet is equipped with sideways looking radar, allowing tracking ground targets, including enemy fortifications and equipment, using sensitive high-resolution cameras, radio detection systems and infrared sensors to detect camouflaged objects. The Ukrainian Su-24MR are being upgraded to be equipped with ICAO- and NATO-compatible communication and navigation equipment along with other more modern systems. Seven aircraft are believed to be currently operational at “Staro”.

Low passes and flybys are pretty common in Ukraine. Here’s a list of videos we have posted on this subject here at The Aviationist: a Ukrainian Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails; an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); here’s an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway and another fully armed Mig-29 Fulcrum in the livery of the Ukrainian Falcons aerobatic display team flying over an apron at an airbase in Ukraine; here’s a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; and here you can see a Su-27 performing a low pass after take off. More recently, we posted a video of a Su-25 flying low and fast over the Sea of Azov, off Kirillovka, a resort town on the Sea of Azov, in southeastern Ukraine, some 65 km from the border with Russia in Crimea in the southwest, and about 140 km southwest of the breakaway Donetsk region. That footage was pulled from Youtube shortly after it was uploaded and went viral.

Ukrainian Su-25 Frogfoot Jet Flies At Ultra-Low Altitude Over The Sea Of Azov

A Ukrainian attack jet almost “buzzed” bathers on a beach at a popular resort town in southeastern Ukraine amid growing tensions with Russia in the Sea of Azov.

Su-25 attack jets are particularly comfortable at very low altitudes and the Ukrainian Frogfoots often fly at low-level as part of their Close Air Support training.

Indeed, we have published many videos showing the Ukrainian Su-25s involved in treetop navigations and ultra-low level flyovers in the past. Here’s a clip reportedly filmed last Friday by vacationers at Kirillovka, a resort town on the Sea of Azov, in southeastern Ukraine, some 65 km from the border with Russia in Crimea in the southwest, and about 140 km southwest of the breakaway Donetsk region.

According to Sputnik News media outlet, the attack aircraft was involved in Ukrainian border guard drills in the Sea of Azov, a region of raising tensions with Moscow: in March, Ukraine’s border guards detained a Russian fishing boat. Russia accused Ukraine or ‘state piracy’ and last week, Russia detained two Ukrainian fishermen accused of poaching, the Russian State-sponsored reported.

By the way, the short video proves the Su-25 is a really quiet jet aircraft, isn’t it?

Actually, low level flying is not only a Frogfoot jets prerogative. Take a look at the following episodes of the “Ukrainian low level activity saga” we have posted here at The Aviationist: a Ukrainian Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails; an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); here’s an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway and another fully armed Mig-29 Fulcrum in the livery of the Ukrainian Falcons aerobatic display team flying over an apron at an airbase in Ukraine; here’s a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; and here you can see a Su-27 performing a low pass after take off.

H/T Lasse Holmstrom for the heads-up!

Take A Look At This Unusual Drone Video Of Two Russian Su-57 Fighters In Flight

Two Su-57s flying in formation as seen from a drone.

An interesting video was shared online by the Russian “Zvezda ” TV channel. It shows, two Su-57 fighter aircraft flying in close formation and executing what appears to be a formation turn (rather than a “combat turn”) during the Russian “Aviadart 2018” drills.

According to TASS news agency, the two Russian fifth generation aircraft were piloted by test pilots of the Experimental Design Bureau named after P.O. Sukhoi Andrey Shendrik and Igor Kruglikov.

The short footage does not show anything new about the controversial and misunderstood Su-57 (formerly T-50), that has recently completed a short deployment to Syria, but it’s particularly interesting since it was filmed by a drone and provides a different point of observation.

As often explained here, the Su-57 is a stealth aircraft equipped with a front, side and rear AESA radar, as well as L Band radars. It features TVC (Thrust Vectoring Control), a top speed exceeding Mach 2 and supermaneuverability. It should be a multirole aircraft capable to carry a wide variety of weapons including air-to-air, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles in large internal weapons bay, recently used to launch a new Kh-59MK2 cruise missile in a test.

USAF Special Operator May Posthumously Receive Medal of Honor for 2002 Battle on Takur-Ghar in Afghanistan

TSgt. John Chapman May Have Fought Desperate, Solo Battle to Safeguard Rescuers.

Alone, abandoned, outgunned. USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman wakes up on a freezing mountaintop in Afghanistan to realize a special operator’s worst nightmare: he is trapped by himself behind enemy lines.

Now he must fight for his life. He is wounded, exposed and low on ammunition as he faces a large number of insurgents bent on making sure he is dead, or worse.

It is Mar. 4 and 5, 2002. The U.S. and coalition led Global War on Terror is at its peak. Coalition conventional and special operations forces are engaged in Operation Anaconda, a combined U.S. military, CIA and international attempt to eliminate Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from the rugged, remote Shahi-Kot Valley in the Arma Mountains of Afghanistan southeast of the Zurmat district.

The operation started hours earlier, and it is already not going well. Among other problems, mechanical delays have caused a U.S. MH-47E Chinook heavy special operations helicopter to attempt to land directly on top of the 10,469-foot Takur-Ghar mountain near sunrise. The helicopter was supposed to insert a long-range surveillance team that would have climbed from their originally planned landing zone (LZ) lower on the mountain to the top of the mountain to provide overwatch for the operation. But the delays compelled planners to save time by landing directly on top of Takur-Ghar. The large helicopter, callsign “Razor 03”, immediately comes under withering machinegun and rocket fire from insurgents dug-in on the mountain summit.

A USAF file photo of TSgt. John Chapman in Afghanistan. (Photo: USAF)

One U.S. Navy SEAL, Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, slips on a slick of expanding hydraulic fluid on the back ramp of “Razor 03”. Roberts slides out of the helicopter and falls to the ground below. The heavily damaged helicopter with casualties on board attempts to retrieve him, but can no longer remain in the air. It crash lands several miles away near the bottom of the mountain. Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts is left alone on top of the mountain to fight for his life.

The wreckage of the first MH-47E Chinook, callsign “Razor 03”, on the summit of Takur-Ghar. (Photo: U.S. DoD File)

The heroic story of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts is well-known from books and other media. But information suggests Roberts wasn’t the only man left alone on the summit of Takur-Ghar in a lonely, one-man battle for survival.

Following the fall of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts from the back ramp of the first MH-47E helicopter “Razor 03”, a second MH-47E Chinook helicopter, this one with callsign “Razor 04”, returned to an area near the original landing site of “Razor 03” near the top of Takur-Ghar in an attempt to rescue Roberts.

The second MH-47E Chinook helicopter, “Razor 04”, inserted a small team of operators including Navy SEALs and an Air Force special operator in an attempt to rescue Roberts.

One of the rescuers was USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman. After their insertion the second team of Navy SEALs and Air Force TSgt. Chapman came under heavy insurgent fire at the summit of Takur-Ghar and several were wounded. For the second time that day, they too were forced to withdraw from the summit. But Chapman had been hit and lay motionless on top of the mountain. When the SEALs withdrew under heavy insurgent gunfire, they thought Tech Sgt. John Chapman was killed in the firefight. It turns out they were likely wrong.

Recent information strongly suggests that USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman survived alone on the summit of Takur-Ghar after the SEAL withdrawal and singlehandedly fought insurgents in hand-to-hand combat. After what appears to be a dramatic close-quarters battle, he did not survive. Now TSgt. John Chapman may receive the United States’ highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

A Department of Defense 3D map showing the location of Takur-Ghar relative to the rest of Operation Anaconda. (Photo: DoD)

In 2016, USAF Colonel Andrew N. Milani, former commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, presented an addendum to an original 2003 report he wrote about the incident that says, “With some of the original uncertainty removed, I can state that the probability now lies more in favor of Chapman surviving the original assault”.

TSgt Chapman has already been awarded the Air Force Cross, but the more recent review of intelligence gathered from the top of Takur-Ghar supports the current push to posthumously award him the Medal of Honor.

As indicated in the documents that awarded him his Air Force Cross, Chapman had, “exchanged fire with the enemy from minimum personal cover until he succumbed to multiple wounds.”

New examination and analysis of video shot from an MQ-1 Predator drone and an AC-130 Spectre gunship above Takur-Ghar may appear to tell the story of remarkable heroism.

At approximately 05:25 local time, video shot from both the MQ-1 Predator drone and from an orbiting AC-130 Spectre gunship showed a person on the ground, almost certainly TSgt. Chapman, moving. And fighting back against insurgents.

“It was really grainy. But there was still somebody up there fighting, and you could see that,” USAF Sgt. Kenny Longfritz, Chapman’s first sergeant at 24th USAF Special Tactics Squadron, said of the Predator drone footage he reviewed after the battle.

The grainy surveillance video goes on to reveal a brutal fight. At 06:00 local time insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Chapman’s position after he had regained consciousness and joined the battle. At the same time the insurgents attacked Chapman at close range with the RPG, one insurgent charged Chapman’s position in an attempt to overrun him. Chapman killed the insurgent. Moments later another insurgent crawled into Chapman’s foxhole. In the surveillance video, the two can be seen engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Chapman prevailed again, killing the insurgent at arms’-length.

Only moments after Chapman’s desperate one-man stand, two helicopters carrying 75 U.S. Army Rangers were bearing down on Takur-Ghar in a last, massive assault to seize the summit position. It was not known at the time that Chapman was still in position fighting to the death. In his final moments, as the helicopters approach, Chapman appears to rise to provide covering fire for the approaching aircraft- possibly with the dead insurgent’s weapon, maybe with his own, no one knows. As he lays down a field of suppressive fire presumably to protect the incoming helicopter force, insurgents finally gun him down in a withering fusillade of machine-gun fire.

Chapman’s survival and courageous one-man fight against insurgents on top of Takur-Ghar could very well have enabled the approaching helicopter assault force to land more safely than without his suppressive covering fire during his final moments.

In multiple media stories, from the New York Times to Task and Purpose, there are reports that TSgt. John Chapman will receive the Medal of Honor. Journalist Paul Szoldra wrote in an April 20, 2018 article in Task and Purpose that:

“Chapman’s family was notified sometime in March that he would be awarded the Medal of Honor, according to several sources familiar with the matter. A source familiar with the Medal of Honor awards process told me the time between family notification and the award ceremony in Washington is typically a matter of weeks.”

A USAF file photo of TSgt. John Chapman in Afghanistan. (Photo: USAF)

While the Whitehouse has declined to comment yet on any upcoming award for John Chapman, the emerging version of events on top of Takur-Ghar on those days back in 2002 strongly suggest that he demonstrated exceptional selflessness, courage and determination in his solo defense of the mountain top against insurmountable odds. As the United States celebrates its annual Memorial Day holiday to remember servicemen fallen in combat, the new information about USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman valor seems deserving of the nation’s highest award for heroism.