Category Archives: Rogue States

Russia Reports Il-20M “Coot-A” Electronic Intelligence Aircraft Lost in Syria During Israeli Air Strike Near Latakia

Confusion surrounds the causes of the loss. U.S. military says they believe the aircraft was shot down by Syrian Air Defense. Russians mention the proximity of Israeli F-16 Jets and French frigate in the area at the time of the incident.

A Russian military Ilyushin Il-20M Coot-A spyplane has been reported as “down” at approximately 2300 local time (2000 GMT) on Monday Sept. 17, in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian coast. There were 14 crewmembers on board the aircraft according to multiple reports.

Russian government media outlet TASS posted that, “On September 17, at about 11:00 Moscow time, the connection with the crew of the Russian Il-20 aircraft was lost over the Mediterranean Sea when the plane was returning to the airbase of Khmeimim, 35 kilometers from the coast of Syria.”

The report in Russian media released early September 18 in U.S. time zones, went on to say, “The ministry specified that the mark of Il-20 went off the radars disappeared during the attack of four Israeli F-16 aircraft on Syrian targets in the province of Latakia.”

In the United States, media outlet CNN immediately attributed the loss of the Russian surveillance and control aircraft to the Syrians, reporting that, “A Russian maritime patrol aircraft with multiple personnel on board was inadvertently shot down by Syrian regime anti-aircraft artillery on Monday after the Syrians came under attack by Israeli missiles, according to a US official with knowledge of the incident.”

The incident happened during an Israeli air strike in Syria being conducted by four F-16s according to CNN and other media outlets. The alleged Israeli strikes were reported to have hit multiple targets in the Syrian province of Latakia.

Photos that appear to show anti-aircraft missiles being launched appeared on Twitter and in Arab media. (Photo: Via Twitter)

The Russians media outlets mentioned the proximity of four Israeli F-16s involved in an air strike on Syrian targets in the province of Latakia, western Syria, when the Il-20 disappeared. No other reports have attributed the loss of the Russian Il-20 to the Israeli Air Force or the four Israeli F-16s reported to be operating in the area at the time. A report in Israeli media outlet Haaretz said only, “Unusual strikes attributed to Israel by Arab media: Missiles hit area near Russian military base injuring 10; Syrian military source says some [missiles] were intercepted.” The Israeli media went on to report that, “The attack near Latakia is especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.”

A conflicting war of words has emerged on Twitter about the incident. (Photo: Via Twitter)

Israeli media has said the missing Russian aircraft was “35 kilometers (20 miles) from the Syrian coastline” but attributed their report back to Russian sources. One Israeli press report also mentioned the proximity of the French missile frigate Auvergne to the area.

The Russian Defense Ministry was also quoted as releasing that, “At the same time, the Russian radars fixed missile launches from the French frigate Auvergne, which was in that area”

This is the fifth Russian aircraft reported lost in operations near Syria in 2018. A total of 58 personnel have been lost in Russian aircraft over Syria so far this year.

Dealing with the aircraft, this is how The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti described the Il-20 when it first appeared in the Syrian theater of operations in 2015:

The Il-20 is an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) platform: it is equipped with a wide array of antennas, IR (Infrared) and Optical sensors, a SLAR (Side-Looking Airborne Radar) and satellite communication equipment for real-time data sharing, the aircraft is Russian Air Force’s premiere spyplane.

Russian Il-20s regularly perform long-range reconnaissance missions in the Baltic region, flying in international airspace with its transponder turned off; a standard practice for almost all ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft. However, at least twice in the last couple of years Russian Coot spyplanes flying close to civilian airports or congested airways were involved in “air proximity” incidents: in March 2014, a SAS Boeing 737 with 132 people almost collided with an Il-20 Coot, about 50 miles to the southwest of Malmö, Sweden; in December 2014, a Canadair CRJ-200 from Cimber Airlines was involved in a near collision with an Il-20 halfway between Ystad, Sweden and Sassnitz, Germany.

In Syria, the aircraft will probably perform intelligence gathering missions, eavesdropping into IS militants communications, detecting their systems’ emissions to build an Electronic Order of Battle of ISIS in the region,  and pinpointing their positions. And, as happened in northern Europe, unless their missions are coordinated, there is the risk of a close encounter with a US-led coalition aircraft involved in Operation Inherent Resolve.

Update Sept. 18, 09.00 GMT

According to the Russian MoD the Il-20M was shot down by Syrian S-200 battery after the Israeli Air Force F-16s used the spyplane as cover. It claims IAF jets dropped GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to attack their targets. The wreckage of the downed aircraft was reportedly located about 30 km west of Banias, Syria.

Picture of airspace over the eastern Med Sea and Syria in the night of Sept. 17, released by the Russian MoD after the downing of the Il-20M.

Update Sept. 18, 12.00 GMT

Here’s the official Israeli stance on the entire episode. According to the IDF spokesperson, the F-16s were already in Israeli airspace when the Il-20 was shot down, anyway, “Israel will share all the relevant information with the Russian Government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

Top image: FAF via Wiki

The Royal Saudi Air Force Has Prepared A Series Of Special Color Jets For The Kingdom’s 88th National Day Celebrations

The photographs of the special colored Tornado, Typhoon, F-15S, F-15C and MRTT have already emerged.

On Sept. 23, Saudi Arabia will celebrate the 88th Saudi National Day. As part of the celebrations, five special colored aircraft (an F-15C belonging to the 13th Sqn; an F-15S from the 92nd Sqn; a Tornado from the 7th Sqn; a Eurofighter Typhoon from the 10th Sqn; and a MRTT belonging to the 24th Sqn) will perform flyovers alongside the Saudi Hawks display team in three cities Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran.

Our friend  has shared with us some previews of the special painted aircraft.

Here they are:

The F-15S belonging to the 92nd Sqn.

The F-15C from the 13th Sqn.

The Tornado IDS form the 7th Sqn.

The Eurofighter Typhoon from the 10th Sqn.

The image of the specially painted A330 MRTT was shared on Twitter:

All the RSAF involved in the flyovers have taken part in the air strikes in Yemen, as part of Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, started on Mar. 26 2015.

Interestingly, the F-15SA, the most advanced production Eagle ever produced, derived from the F-15E Strike Eagle, was not given a special color scheme and won’t take part in the celebrations (at least not as part of the 88th National Day formation). The “SA” are equipped with the APG-63V3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a digital glass cockpit, JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mouted Cueing System), Digital Electronic Warfare System/Common Missile Warning System (DEWS/CMWS), IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) system, and able to carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, including the AIM-120C7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) and the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the AGM-84 SLAM-ERs, the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) on 11 external hardpoints.

The RSAF has received its first of 84 F-15SA at King Khalid Air Base (KKAB) in Saudi Arabia via RAF Lakenheath, on Dec. 13, 2016.

 

NORAD Released A Photo Of A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Shadowing A Russian Tu-95MS Bear Bomber During Intercept Off Alaska

This time the Bear bombers were escorted by Su-35 jets.

On Sept. 11, at approximately 10 PM EDT, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jets “positively identified and intercepted two Russian Tu-95MS A“Bear-H” bombers west of Alaska.

Nothing special then, considered that a similar intercept had occurred on Sept. 1. However, this time the Russian bombers, flying in international airspace but inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) – a special zone, that can extend well beyond a country’s territory where aircraft 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 – were accompanied by two Russian Su-35 “Flanker” fighter jets.

F-22s are among the aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) scrambled by NORAD in support of Operation Noble Eagle, launched in the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent a recurrence of Sept. 11, 2001-style air attacks in U.S. and Canada.

This is not the first time some Flanker jets operate alongside the Russian bombers on their long range sorties. Indeed, this is what this Author wrote commenting the previous intercept earlier this month:

Such close encounters are quite frequent and may also involve fighters, as happened in 2017, when the Bears were escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, and an A-50 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft. Anyway, this is the second time that Russian Bears pay a visit to the Alaskan ADIZ: on May 12, 2018, two F-22s were launched to perform a VID and escort two Tu-95 on a similar mission in the Northern Pacific.

In fact, in May 2017, a “mini-package” of two Russian nuclear-capable Tu-95MS Bear bombers escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets and supported by an A-50 Mainstay flew inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), and was intercepted by two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors some 50 NM to the south of Chariot, Alaska.

Here’s what we wrote back then:

The Su-35 is a 4++ generation aircraft characterized by supermaneuverability. Although it’s not stealth, it is equipped with a Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically-Scanned Array) and a long-range IRST – Infrared Search and Tracking – system capable, (according to Russian sources…) to detect stealth planes like the F-35 at a distance of over 90 kilometers.

[…]

In my opinion the “mini package” was launched as a consequence of the increased flight activity in Alaska related to the Northern Edge exercise, confirming that the Russians closely observe what happens in the Alaskan area.

This time, they wanted to showcase their ability to plan a complex long-range sortie as well as the Flanker’s readiness to escort its own HVA (high value asset), the Bear, during operations at strategic distance.

The composition of this package is also worth a comment.

The presence of the Mainstay should not be underestimated. It was flying well behind the Flanker and Bear aircraft with a specific purpose. As an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform the A-50 is believed to embed some ESM (Electronic Support Measures): in other words, it is able to detect far away targets as well as able to sniff radar, radio and data link emissions. Furthermore, Raptors in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) *usually* fly with external fuel tanks and Luneburg lenses: this means that they are (consciously) visible to radars. In such conditions, although it can’t “characterize” the clean F-22’s signature, the Mainstay can at least gather some data about the interceptors’ radar emissions (if any) and observe and study their tactics.

Therefore, as frequently happens on both sides since the Cold War, on May 3, the Russians most probably carried out another simulated long-range strike mission but with a precise ELINT (ELectronics INTelligence) objective: the Flankers and Bears were acting as a “decoy” package to test the American scramble tactics and reaction times, whereas the Mainstay, in a back position, tried to collect as much signals and data as possible about the US fighters launched to intercept them.

General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD Commander, commented the latest event in a public release as follows: “The homeland is no longer a sanctuary and the ability to deter and defeat threats to our citizens, vital infrastructure, and national institutions starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace. NORAD employs a layered defense network of radars, satellites, as well as fighters to identify aircraft and determine the appropriate response.”

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force

Let’s Have A Look At The Loadout Of The Two U.S. Air Force F-16s That Reportedly Operated Off Libya Last Saturday

Looks like two F-16s from Aviano were involved in a somehow “mysterious” mission over the Mediterranean Sea during last weekend.

As the overnight trilateral strike on Syria on Apr. 13 and 14 has proved, an OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) analysis based on flight tracking websites ADS-B, Mode-S and MLAT and other information shared via social media, may provide a clear “picture” of the air asset involved in a raid as the operation unfolds and well before the involvement of this or that asset is officially confirmed.

Every day, aviation enthusiasts,  journalists and, generally speaking, anyone who has an Internet connection a computer, laptop or smartphone, can track flights in real-time via information in the public domain.

As happened on Saturday Sept. 8, 2018 when most of the flight tracking experts noticed something weird off the coasts of Northern Africa: an “eye catching” gathering of aircraft.

If the constant presence of an RQ-4 Global Hawk, an EP-3E ARIES II or another spyplane in the southern or eastern Med Sea is something normal considered the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions flown in the region since 2011, the presence of a pair of F-16s from Aviano Air Base (supported by one or two KC-135 tankers) off Libya (at least based on the position of the accompanying aerial refueler) is something really unusual. Moreover, the 31st FW’s jets rarely fly on weekends if they are not deploying somewhere or returning from a deployment. And, above all, they don’t carry Live armament, unless they are involved in real combat operations.

KC-135 QID564 on final for landing at Aviano.

On Sept. 8, two F-16s belonging to the 555th Fighter Squadron/31st FW launched from Aviano, reportedly operated off Libya, where they were supported by KC-135R tankers with the 100th ARW from RAF Mildenhall, and then returned home.

As the photographs in this post (taken outside Aviano on that day by photographer Claudio Tramontin) show, the Vipers carried 3x AIM-120C AMRAAM and 1x AIM-9X air-to-air missiles (AAMs), 2x GBU-54 500-lb laser-guided JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions along with external fuel tanks, a AN/ALQ-131 ECM pod as well as the Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod): a configuration that gave the F-16s the ability to perform DCA (Defensive Counter Air) with AAMs as well as engage (moving) ground targets with precision and minimal collateral damage. Pilots worn the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Sight).

The two F-16s returning to Aviano AB with their load of aam and JDAMs.

While the purpose of their mission is unknown (we can speculate they were “on call” or supporting other assets or after a target that eventually did not show up or could not be attacked, etc) what is sure is that they did not use any of their ordnance: the aircraft returned to Aviano with all the weapons they had on departure.

One of the two F-16s involved in the rather unusual mission on Sat. 8, 2018. All images credit: Claudio Tramontin.

The situation in Libya has dramatically deteriorated in recent weeks, due to heavy clashes in Tripoli. A rocket attack on Mitiga International Airport (reopened on Friday Sept. 7, following clashes between rival militias caused, flights to the Libya capital to be diverted on Tuesday.

Israeli Combat Aircraft Which Participated In The Attack On The Syrian Nuclear Reactor in 2007 Given New Mission Marking

Syrian Reactor Mission Markings for the jets involved in the raid.

On Sept. 6, 2007 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) destroyed the nuclear reactor in Dier ez-Zor, Syria as part of an operation named “Silent Tone” (previously unofficially named “Operation Orchard” by international media).

For more than 10 years, Israel never publicly admitted that some of its aircraft destroyed the facility in eastern Syria, even though some details about the clandestine mission leaked throughout the years. Then, on Mar. 21, 2018, the Israeli Air Force published a detailed report on its website providing official confirmation along with some details: the raid was carried out by Israeli Air Force (IAF) 69 Squadron F-15I “Ra’am” (Thunder) and 119 and 253 Squadron F-16I “Sufa” (Storm) jets and an ELINT aircraft: as many as eight aircraft participated and at least four of these crossed into Syrian airspace. The reactor was destroyed as planned shortly before being officially rendered active.

“If the nuclear reactor would have been established successfully, Israel could have shared a border with an enemy state which has nuclear capabilities,” Brig. Gen. A. who took part in the raid flying a Sufa, said in an official release. “Beyond that, the IAF’s operational activity against the Hezbollah terrorist organization and the Iranian military establishment may have been limited by the looming nuclear threat. In addition, the activity in Syria over the past years may have turned out different if it had nuclear capabilities, seeing as they might have landed in the wrong hands. The operation is of indubitable historical importance to both the state of Israel and our neighboring countries”.

On Sept. 6, 2018, 11 years after the successful raid, during a ceremony held at the Israeli Ramon and Hatzerim airbases in parallel – the attacking F-15I aircraft from the 69th (“Hammers”) Squadron and F-16I aircraft from the 253rd (“Negev”) Squadron were given special mission markings that commemorate Operation “Silent Tone”. An additional ceremony will be held on September 14th, at the 119th (“Bat”) Squadron, which operates “Sufa” aircraft as well.

The mission marking being applied to a Sufa. (IAF Spokeperson).

The aircraft were given a decal bearing the operation’s symbol: a triangle, which symbolizes a strike sortie, colored in the Syrian flag’s colors (red, black and white in the background with two green stars), and at its center, a radiation hazard symbol symbolizing the nuclear reactor.

According to the IAF website, the mission markings were imprinted by representatives who participated in the attack, representatives of the technical departments who assisted in the attack and the squadron commanders, Lt. Col. G’ and Lt. Col. R’.

The mission marking (Ranann Weiss via IAF)

According to the book “The Sword of David – The Israeli Air Force at War” written by Donald McCarthy, the ELINT aircraft that is believed to have supported the raid was a Gulfstream G550 aircraft equipped with the IAI Elta EL/W-2085 radar system by means of that the IAF took over Syria’s air defense systems, feeding them a false sky-picture.

Indeed, the success of the secretive air strike was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind. As we have often reported here at The Aviationist, many sources believe that Operation “Silent Tone” also saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems. Still, since it was not mentioned in the official release, it’s safe to assume the G550 won’t get any mission marking.

Top image: IAF