Category Archives: Rogue States

U.S. F-15E Downs Iranian-Built Syrian Drone After Airstrike on U.S. Led Forces

Syrian Drone Destroyed by Strike Eagle After It Engaged Anti-Assad Coalition Ground Forces. Second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since Gulf War.

U.S. Special Operations advisors leading anti-Assad Syrian forces came under fire from an Iranian built Shahed 129 drone operated by Syrian pro-government forces on Thursday according to the U.S. Army.

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot the drone down.

The incident occurred outside Al-Tanf, southern Syria close to the Jordanian border. An installation in Al –Tanf serves as a forward operating base for British and U.S. special operations teams assisting the anti-ISIL Syrian guerilla group Maghawir al-Thawra or “Commandos of the Revolution”. Maghawir al-Thawra is regarded as an indigenous special operations group who have received training and support from coalition forces to fight the Assad regime.

The U.S. reacted to the drone attack by tasking an F-15E Strike Eagle to locate and destroy the Syrian drone. It was officially the first time U.S. forces had come under air attack by a hostile nation in nearly 20 years and the second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since the downing of an Iraqi Gunship helicopter in 1991.

According to U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the Assad government Syrian drone strike on U.S. advisors and Syrian revolutionary commandos “did not have an effect on coalition forces,”

“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to the U.S. MQ-1 predator, was shot down by U.S. aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIL,” CJTF-OIR’s public affairs office released in a statement. “The shoot down follows an earlier engagement in the day in which Coalition forces destroyed two pro-regime armed technical vehicles that advanced inside the well established de-confliction zone threatening Coalition and partner forces.”

Pentagon Correspondent Tara Copp was among the first to release the U.S. aircraft involved in the drone shoot-down incident (Twitter)

A 34-mile region around Al-Tanf has been declared a “de-confliction zone” by coalition forces for the past several weeks. This buffer was established to safeguard U.S. and British supported anti-Assad forces. Several incidents have taken place recently inside this de-confliction zone that have prompted a U.S. response. On Tuesday, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped four bombs killing an estimated 10 pro-Assad combatants and destroyed several of their vehicles.

It is also likely the pro-Assad forces controlling the Iranian made Shahed 129 drone were in close proximity to the drone itself at the time it attacked U.S. advised anti-Assad forces. The Shahed 129 can be controlled by satellite guidance from a remote ground station, but this example was almost certainly controlled by a local ground controller with line-of-sight to the Syrian Shahed 129 when it was destroyed by the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle.

The incident is significant since U.S. ground forces in the region and, in the entire history of the Global War of Terror, have been largely immune from air attacks. The Iranian-made Shahed 129 drone was also employed by Hezbollah in a 2012 operation over Israel. The Israelis downed the Iranian-made, Hezbollah-controlled drone but the incident marked a dangerous escalation in terrorist capabilities.

The Iranian-built Shahed 129 armed drone (Iranian News Media)

 

Two U.S. Air Force B-1 Bombers Fly 10-hour Mission From Guam To Operate With U.S. Navy Guided-Missile Destroyer In South China Sea

Air Force and Navy assets train in South China Sea.

On Jun. 8, two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, flew a 10-hour mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, through the South China Sea, and operated with the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104) “to increase interoperability by refining joint tactics, techniques and procedures while simultaneously strengthening their ability to seamlessly integrate their operations.”

The B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews) have been supporting he U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission since Aug. 6, 2016, when the first B-1s, belonging to the 28th Bomb Wing from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, deployed to Guam, for the first time in a decade, to replace the B-52s.

The B-1B had been taken out from the Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) rotation at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base because they can’t carry any kind of nuclear weapon: the Lancer deployment in the regions brings a conventional heavy bomber within striking distance of the Korean peninsula.

While deterring North Korea out of Guam, the B-1s have also been involved in several regional exercises. For instance, in November 2016, one Lancer carried out close air support training in the vicinity of Australia, a type of mission in which they cooperate with JTACs.

CAS are among the most frequent missions flown by the “Bones” against ISIS during their 6-month deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve last year: when they returned stateside in January 2016, the B-1s had flown 490 sorties dropping 3,800 munitions on 3,700 targets.

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36 Years Ago today, “Operation Opera”: The Israeli Air Strike on an Iraqi Nuclear Reactor.

Israelis Shock The World With Audacious First Ever F-16 Strike.

1735 HRs Local, Sunday, June 7, 1981. Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Facility, outside Baghdad, Iraq.

Iraqi Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is in shock. His jaw drops, mouth gaping open as a strained moan leaves his throat. Despite the hot desert temperature his limbs feel cold. He cannot believe what he is seeing.

Eight F-16s painted sand-colored desert camouflage flying in a single-file attack formation at rooftop level hurtles over the outskirts of Baghdad from the southwest. They bank hard left, slicing white tendrils of vapor from their missile-clad wingtips in the evening air. One at a time they light their afterburners over the southern edge of the city. The crack of jet thunder makes people all over Baghdad glance upward to the sky. As the attacking pilots pull their side-sticks back the jets instantly vault upward into the clear evening blue on tails of orange fire.

Their wings wear the white roundel and blue Star of David. The Israelis are here.

The single file procession of ear-splitting jets reaches 5,000 feet, their tails to the sun and invisible from the ground in the blinding light for the moment. They roll heavily onto their backs, wings bloated with huge one-ton bombs. They pitch downward into a shallow dive and lazily tumble back to wings level. Then they each drop two Mark-84 delayed fuse 2,000-pound general purpose bombs on Iraq’s new industrial pride, the French-designed nuclear reactor at Osirak. The large round reactor dome is completely destroyed in only two minutes. Nothing else is touched.

And then they are gone.

Iraq’s own air defense gunners do the only collateral damage. They accidentally shoot one of their own anti-aircraft gun positions on the ground when they try to hit the last Israeli jet fleeing at low level as erupting explosions from the delayed fuses on the bombs shatter the nuclear dome. One French contractor from Air Liquide dies tragically in the air raid. Ten Iraqi soldiers are killed as well, although it is not known if their death was a result of the Israeli bombs.

This Google Earth image shows the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center with the arrow indicating the former location of the reactor destroyed during Operation Opera (Google Earth via Rick Herter)

Having recovered from his shocked surprise and weighed down by dread, the next day Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is hanged in a public execution along with his fellow officers. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has them executed for incompetence while failing to defend the most important strategic target in the country. It was the big Iraqi hope for building a nuclear weapons program.

In a script that has played out before, and would repeat itself again and again, a foreign nation has attacked Iraq to destroy its Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. This time it is Israel, and this is Operation Opera, one of the most audacious airstrikes in the history of airpower on June 7, 1981. It compares in significance to the air attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the RAF’s dam buster attack and in an unusual way the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

It is not the first time an audacious airstrike has been launched to destroy Iraq’s nuclear development program. The Iranians launched a similar strike only a few months earlier in September of 1980 but failed to achieve a tangible result, using two older McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms. The Iranian Phantoms missed the reactor dome with their bombs. Work on the Iraqi reactor supported by the French continued, this time with enhanced air defenses ringing the facility. It would not stop Israel from trying.

Operation Opera, sometimes also called Operation Babylon, holds a significant place in aerial combat history for many reasons. A few regard it as perhaps the most daring and significant air attack in history.

The aircrews who flew Operation Opera (Ze’ev Raz)

This was a spectacular combat debut for one of the most successful tactical aircraft ever built and still serving in front line service with many nations today. The early General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons used in the raid were called the “F-16A Netz” or “Hawk” in Israeli service. These very same F-16As went on to build an illustrious legacy for Israel, downing an amazing 40 enemy aircraft in the first war with Lebanon the year after Operation Opera in 1982. The original F-16A Netz aircraft were only recently retired from Israeli service on Dec. 26, 2016. They are being sold to a private contract “red air” company to provide simulation of enemy forces for training of new combat aircrews, probably over the U.S. southwest. During the following decades U.S. Air Force F-16s would go on to drop thousands of tons of munitions in the region.

In the latest chapter the free Iraqi Air Force acquired the first of thirty-six F-16s in June of 2014. That same year a U.S. F-16 instructor pilot told us on condition of anonymity that the program to train Iraqi pilots to fly the F-16 at Tucson International Airport in Arizona was, “Going dismally, most of them [the Iraqi F-16 students] can barely fly.” But the free Iraqis went on to develop enough proficiency to use their F-16’s successfully in combat over Iraq beginning in September of 2015. Just recently the Iraqi Air Force received its fifth batch of four F-16IQ’s on March 24th of 2017 completing the full Iraqi 9th Fighter Squadron with all of its F-16s.

Operation Opera has its roots in traditional aerial bombing before the introduction of stealth and precision guided weapons. It also reached into the future because of its mission of ending the proliferation of WMDs in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. That same agenda would haunt every U.S. President since then and eventually compel George W. Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003. Operation Opera foreshadows U.S. doctrine with North Korea today, supporting a rising argument that the U.S. should follow Israel’s example with Iraq and destroy North Korea’s looming nuclear threat before it becomes too dangerous to challenge.

While Operation Opera earns its place in the lore of combat aviation it was, for the most part, a relatively conventional low-level interdiction air strike. One of several things that made Opera sensational was the audacity of Israel for launching the strike, an aggressive act that Israel would defend with vigor, the United Nations would condemn and then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan would shrug off in surprised but quiet admiration of Israel’s aggressiveness, daring and initiative.

Another thing that surprised observers including U.S. intelligence analysts was how the Israelis managed to complete the raid without aerial refueling and how they were able to infiltrate one of Iraq’s most heavily defended airspaces completely undetected in broad daylight. The answers to these questions are exceptional planning, vigorous espionage, incredible work on the part of the maintenance crews, support personnel and incredible airmanship for the strike pilots along with no small measure of good fortune for the Israelis.

The Israeli F-16A’s take on fuel up to the last moment before take-off (Ze’ev Raz via Rick Herter)

It is interesting that the Israelis chose to use eight lightweight, single-engine F-16As as the bomb-carrying strike aircraft and assigned six of the heavier, twin engine F-15 “Baz” aircraft to fly combat air patrol over the mission. The F-15 would later be adapted into a dedicated strike fighter configuration that would have been better suited to a raid like Operation Opera.

Remarkably, 26 years later Israel would use this mission template again.

On Sept. 6, 2007 Israel would reverse the role of the same aircraft during Operation Orchard, an airstrike on a secret Syrian nuclear installation in the Deir ez-Zor area. In this later strike on a similar target, Israel would employ new F-15I Ra’am strike aircraft as bombers and use the latest precision guided air-to-ground weapons including Maverick missiles and laser-guided bombs. An Israeli special operations team infiltrated the area to provide initial reconnaissance, including radiological survey, and later provide target designation for the precision-guided weapons during the strike. The Syrian nuclear site was built with significant support and cooperation from the North Koreans, and ten North Korean workers were killed at Deir ez-Zor, Syria during the 2007 strike.

Aviation artist and historian Rick Herter of the U.S. traveled to Israel some time ago with a U.S. Air Force Major General. Herter was given unique access to the secretive Israeli Air Force, interfacing with the Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff to gain a detailed historical understanding of Israeli operations including Operation Opera. Following Herter’s trip to Israel he began to work closely with retired Israeli Air Force Colonel Ze’ev Raz who planned and commanded Operation Opera himself, flying one of the strike aircraft. Herter’s unique relationship with the man who planned and flew the mission gave him insights that lead to his painting of the mission, the only in flight image with historical and technical accuracy. Rick Herter’s painting, “Dropping The Hammer, Operation Opera” is used at the top of this article.

Retired Israeli Air Force Colonel and pilot Ze’ev Raz collaborates with aviation historian and artist Rick Herter. (Rick Herter)

A Russian Su-27 Flanker Has Intercepted A U.S. B-52 Strategic Bomber Over The Baltic Sea

An interesting close encounter has just taken place over the Baltic Sea.

A Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet was instructed to intercept a US B-52 Stratofortress over the Baltic Sea earlier today.

The USAF strategic bomber “was flying along the Russian border,” the Russian Defense Ministry reported according to RT.

“Russia’s air defense detected the aircraft on Tuesday morning at around 7:00 GMT, the statement said. The Su-27 of the Russian Baltic Fleet was deployed in response and shadowed the American aircraft after identifying it, as the bomber was flying in neutral airspace over the Baltic Sea along the border, the ministry said.”

Where the interception took place it’s not clear at the time of writing. Most probably, the American Buff was flying in international airspace off Kaliningrad Oblast, where most of these “close encounters” have taken place in the recent years.

Some of these have been particularly dangerous, as the Russian combat planes have aggressively maneuvered close to (or even barrel rolled over) the U.S. spyplanes (mostly RC-135s) they were shadowing. This is the first time, at least in the last few years, that a Russian plane performs a VID (Visual Identification) run on a B-52 bomber.

The Stratofortress involved in the intercept must have been one of the three B-52Hs belonging to the 2nd BW (Bomb Wing) from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana,deployed to Royal Air Force Fairford, United Kingdom, to support various exercises, including BALTOPS and Saber Strike, throughout northern Europe during the month of June.

 

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Take A Seat In the Cockpit Of A U.S. B-52 Bomber As It Drops GBU-31 “Bunker Buster” Bombs On ISIS Targets In Mosul

Rare Insight Into The Operations Of The B-52s.

The venerable U.S. Air Force B-52 Buffs have been supporting the air war on ISIS since April 2016. They Stratofortress strategic bombers, based at Al Udeid, Qatar, launched their first air strike against a Daesh weapons storage facility in Iraq on Apr. 18, 2016.

As already highlighted in a previous article, the USAF B-52s have mainly flown Close Air Support and Air Interdiction mainly delivering two types of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions): the 500-lb laser-guided GBU-54s and the 2,000-lb GPS-guided GBU-31V3 “bunker busters” loaded onto the Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam pylons.

The typical loadout includes 3x GBU-31s and 8x GBU-54s along with PGMs carried inside the bomb bay of the B-52H Stratofortress. With the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade the Buffs can carry up to 16 external laser JDAMs (8 per pylon) as well as 8 internal J-series weapons mounted on a conventional rotary launcher: a mix of PGMs that gives the Buffs the ability to deliver attack both stationary and moving ground targets. In particular, the GBU-54s, that combines 500-lb Mk-82 warhead and the precision strike capability delivered by its dual Laser/GPS mode guidance system can be used against targets with reduced collateral damage.

For hardened targets or concrete shelters, the weapons of choice is the GBU-31s.The JDAM is a GPS aided inertially guided bomb. The Guidance and Control Unit (GCU) containing a HG1700 RLG, GEM-III GPS receiver and computer package is installed inside the bomb tailkit. The GCU is used on the bunker busting 2,000-lb class BLU-109/B forged steel penetrator warhead.

The GBU-31s are assembled at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, by airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron’s Munitions Flight. Considered that the base

The following video provides a really interesting point of view: it shows a high-altitude attack on a target in western Mosul (according to @obretix), as seen from the cockpit of a B-52 of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron on May 23, 2017. The detonation of the bombs as they hit the ground appears to be pretty huge.

H/T @obretix for the heads-up