Category Archives: Rogue States

Why Is A Swedish ELINT Aircraft Operating Off Lebanon and Syria These Days?

A Swedish Air Force heavily-modified Gulfstream IVSP aircraft used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) missions has joined the long list of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platforms operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

On May 1, 2018, a Swedish Air Force S102B Korpen has started operating in the eastern Med.

The aircraft is one of two SwAF’s S102B Korpen aircraft, heavily-modified Gulfstream IVSP business jets used to perform ELINT missions. These aircraft have been in service with the Swedish Air Force since 1992, when they have replaced the two TP85s (modified Caravelle airliners formerly belonging to the SAS airline) that had been operated for 20 years since 1972. They are equipped with sensors operated by ELINT personnel from the FRA (the Radio Establishment of the Defence), capable to eavesdrop, collect and analyse enemy electronic emissions. As we have often reported here at The Aviationist, the Korpen jets routinely conduct surveillance missions over the Baltic Sea, flying high and fast in international airspace off the area of interest. The most frequent “target” of the S102B is Kaliningrad Oblast and its Russian installations. For this reason, the Swedish ELINT aircraft are also frequently intercepted by Russian Su-27 Flankers scrambled from the Kaliningrad exclave’s airbases.

Anyway, it looks like the Swedish airplane has now pointed its sensors to the Russian signals in Syria, deploying to Larnaca, Cyprus: the example 102003/”023″, using callsign “SVF647”, was tracked, by means of its ADS-B/Mode-S transponder, twice on May 1, flying off Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt, more or less in the very same way many other aircraft (U.S. Navy P-8s, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 and RC-135s) have been doing for some weeks.

Here’s the first mission in the morning on May 1:

Here’s the second mission, later on the same day (21.40LT):

Considered the quite unusual area of operations, one might wonder why the Swedish S102B is currently operating close to the Syrian theater, so far from home. We can just speculate here, but the most likely guess is that the aircraft is collecting ELINT off Syria to acquire new baseline data for assets that are deployed there and which may either be currently or imminently deployed in Kaliningrad. Possibly surface vessels too, which might add to the Baltic Electronic Order of Battle. “I think they are just acquiring ELINT that is unique to Syria and might have applications in the Baltic,” says a source who wishes to remain anonymous.

For sure, with all the Russian “hardware” deployed to Syria, often referred to as a “testbed” for Moscow’s new equipment, there is some much data to be collected that the region has already turned into a sort of “signals paradise” for the intelligence teams from all around the world.

Top image: Peter Bakema/Wiki and @ItaMilRadar

Russia Rehearses Flyovers for Massive Moscow Victory Day Parade

First Parade Appearance for Sukhoi Su-57. Will MiG-31 Carry New Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile?

The Russian Aerospace Forces are well into rehearsals for what is arguably one of the most impressive conspicuous display of military might in the world: the annual Victory Day Parade in Red Square, Moscow to be held on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, at 1000 Hrs. local.

This year’s Victory Day parade commemorates the 73rd anniversary of the Russian victory over Germany in WWII, a war in which Russia lost an estimated 20+ million military and civilian lives, the greatest loss of life recorded by any nation in a war. Each year the parade begins with the emotional ringing of the historic clock on the Spasskaya Tower at the Kremlin in Moscow.

One of the most spectacular parts of the Victory Day Parade is the massive fly-over of Russian military aircraft. This year’s aerial parade review is scheduled to include 63 aircraft. The Russian flight demonstration teams The Russian Knights and Swifts will account for 15 of those aircraft. The Russian Knights will fly 6 new Sukhoi Su-30SM aircraft and the Swifts will pass over in their 9 Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft. The two teams generally fly a large, single formation.

A gigantic Tupolev Tu-160 White Swan long range strategic bomber will also participate in the flyover and has been seen during rehearsals in formation with 4 Tupolev Tu-22M3s. Video from a rehearsal flyover appears to show one additional Tu-160 at the back of an Ilyushin Il-78.

This year will be the first year the relatively new Sukhoi Su-57 5th generation fighter will participate in the fly-over. Two Sukhoi Su-57s in a new pixelated air-superiority camouflage scheme will take part in the flyover.

Russia will display two new small RPVs in the 2018 Victory Parade. (Photo: Ragulin Vitaly/Livejournal)

It will also be interesting to see if any of the four MiG-31s (NATO codename “Foxhound”) will be carrying the new Kh-47M2 hypersonic long range cruise missile referred to as the “Kinzhal”. Russian social media has suggested that at least one of the MiG-31s in the aerial display will carry a Kinzhal in the flyover.

Given the involvement of the Russian Aerospace Forces in the Syrian conflict and recent successes in the campaign this year’s parade is expected to bring out a large crowd.

The weather forecast for Moscow on Wednesday, May 9, is favorable according to the U.S. weather website Accuweather.com, with a high temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius) and clouds developing in the afternoon. The current forecast calls for a 21% chance of rain. Bad weather has played a role in the flyover demonstration before in the Victory Day Parade so conditions on May 9 are key to event being staged in its full version with both ground and aerial displays.

If you want to see the Victory Day Parade on Red Square you’ll need good connections. The coveted seats along Red Square are very difficult to come by. This area is generally reserved specifically for higher government employees, members of state govern ment, including President Vladimir Putin, military heroes and press.Internet resources suggest that, based on previous parade routes, one of the best places to see the ground portion of the parade (and presumably some of the flyovers too) is the Belorusskiy viaduct (Белорусский путепровод) on the Leningradskiy prospect.

An Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopter takes off for a rehearsal flyover as spectators watch. (Photo: Marina Lystseva/Livejournal)

Thank you to Mr. Vladimir Zinenko of the excellent Facebook page ВКС России for his assistance with this article.

Top image: two new Su-57s will fly over Red Square for the first time on Victory Day. (Photo: Chen Xiangyu/RussianPlanes.net)

Incident in Saudi Arabia Sparks Tweets About Unconfirmed Possible Coup Attempt.

Video Emerging with Significant Gunfire Being Heard Near Palace; King Transferred to Airbase; Toy Drone shot down.

Twitter and news outlets came alive with spotty, unconfirmed news reports of an incident in Saudi Arabia that some sources were describing as a possible “coup attempt”. There has been no official verification of significant or organized action in the region and no reports have surfaced as of 00:30 Riyadh time on the BBC World News, but the volume of Twitter reports and private messages received by this reporter seem to indicate an incident of some significance.

Saudi Arabia has been so far successful in avoiding inclusion in the “Arab Spring” revolts that have toppled governments across the Middle East and began in Tunisia in 2010. Since then Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain have been subject to either government coups or coup attempts. The attempts at overthrowing the Syrian government have resulted in one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the region now in its seventh year.

The Daily Mail is one of the media outlets reporting the “heavy gungire near royal palace”.

As the minutes have passed during the last hour the volume of traffic about Saudi Arabia on Twitter has increased, but the region’s top Twitter reporter, @SamiAlJaber, has reported nothing specific about a “coup attempt”.

“An official Riyadh district police spokesman said that at about 19:50 p.m. on Saturday, 5/8/1439 a security screening point in the Al-Khuzama district of Riyadh noticed a small, remote-controlled recreational aircraft (drone) flying without being authorized to do so, which required security personnel at the security point to deal with it in accordance with their orders and instructions in this regard,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported according to Newsweek.

The following traffic was monitored in the aftermath of the reported gunfire. It might be completely unrelated to the alleged attempted coup, still it’s worth of note, considered that according to flight tracking authority @CivMilAir the GL4 has always shadowed the Crown Prince’s UK, USA, France tours.

For instance, the same aircraft, registration HZ-MS4B was part of the fleet that supported the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman during his U.S. tour. Here’s a tweet dating back to a couple of weeks ago:

Concern about unrest in the country have been top of mind in the region for several years but the existing government has, to date, been mostly successful in moderating large, overt attempt at leadership change.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

Top image credit: Google

Contrary To Initial Reports, F-22s Were Indeed Flying And Older, Standard JASSMs Were Used During Syria Strike

AFCENT Changing The Narrative About the Strikes and Weapons Used in Syria.

U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) made an unusual announcement today revealing to Air Force Magazine that: “US Air Force F-22 Raptors played an integral role in protecting ground forces during and after the multinational strikes against Syrian chemical weapons production facilities on the morning of April 14.”

AFCENT spokesman USAF Capt. Mark Graff released that, “Thanks to its unique fifth generation capabilities, the F-22 was the only airframe suited to operate inside the Syrian integrated air defense systems, offering an option to neutralize [Integrated Air Defense System] threats to our forces and installations in the region, and provide protective air support for US, coalition and partners on the ground in Syria.”

An article published today by reporters and subject matter experts John Tirpak and Brian Everstine of Air Force Magazine said that Air Forces Central Command was “correcting the record” about the April 14, 2018 anti-chemical weapons strikes on Syria.

During the combined air and sea strikes in Syria on the 14th, aircraft and weapons from a coalition of the United Kingdom, France and the United States struck a weapons research center in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and a chemical weapon storage site and command center that had been associated with chemical weapons delivery and production.

According to multiple press reports, over 100 weapons were employed in the strikes that the U.S claims were successful. Syria and Russia claim a number of cruise missiles were shot down during the strikes and that little damage was done. The U.S. has published strike video of targets being destroyed in the raids. Russia and Syria have not produced tangible evidence of the claims that the raids were ineffective.

One the B-1s involved in the air strikes takes off from Al Udeid, Qatar. Image credit: US DoD via Oriana Pawlyk

Tirpak and Everstine’s report on AFCENT’s announcement reveals that, “Air-to-Surface Standoff Munitions used in the mission were the older, standard version, not the extended range variant.” This statement counters an earlier report in Air Force Magazine, also reported by Tirpak and Everstine, that:

“The [April 14] strike marked the first use of the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range weapon in combat. Two USAF B-1B Lancers from the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron launched a total of 19 JASSM-ERs. The two bombers, deployed from Al Udeid AB, Qatar, entered Syrian airspace from the south and were escorted by a USMC EA-6B Prowler.”

New information also reveals that USAF F-22 Raptors were part of the game, ready to repel interception from aircraft and from surface-to-air missiles.
Another interesting part of today’s announcement is that, “F-22s were indeed flying in the area, ready to strike Syrian or Russian air defense systems and other assets if they threatened either coalition aircraft or US ground forces in the region.” This comment is of particular interest since it acknowledges that the U.S. had some type of ground forces in the area during the strikes.

While no specific information is available about the use of U.S. ground forces in this specific instance, it is common doctrine for special operations teams to provide target designation, search and rescue and bomb damage assessment in connection with air operations.

Tirpak and Everstine also quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart in a Military.com report published on Monday, April 16, 2018, that the F-22, “was available, but wasn’t required for the operation as planned.” Lt. Col. Pickart added, “That said, the F-22 is well-suited for the defensive counterair mission it continues to conduct over Syria, protecting coalition forces on the ground and in the air.” Today’s reveal confirms that the F-22 was indeed used in the raid over Syria on April 14.

AFCENT spokesman Capt. Mark Graff also told reporters that, “Fifth generation platforms like the F-22 and the F-35 will continue to serve as the primary platforms capable of operating in the lethal threat rings of Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) environments like those found in Syria,” in his remarks about the April 14 strikes. Capt. Graff’s remarks hint at the possible future first use of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in combat, although no F-35s from the U.S. are known to be in the region at this time. There have been rumors of the Israelis using F-35s, but these theories have been effectively debunked as inaccurate.

Graff went on to acknowledge that the 19 cruise missiles employed against the targets in Barzeh, Syria “were, in fact, not JASSM Extended Range (JASSM-ER) munitions” as reported by the Pentagon immediately following the attack. The cruise missiles employed in the strikes were actually, “JASSM-A, or the standard, non-extended range versions of the munition,” Graff said. Graff did confirm the April 14 strikes were the first use “of any variant of the JASSM.”

Some social media pundits, mostly Syrian and Russian, have disputed claims that chemical weapons were even present in the target areas, claiming there has been no independent verification of the presence of chemical weapons. U.S. news media reported that, “Even though US intelligence agencies did not have absolute certainty Syria’s regime had used the nerve agent sarin against civilians, the Trump administration still felt there was enough evidence to justify retaliatory strikes last Friday,” according to a report published April 18, 2018 by CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.

Some critics claimed that, if chemical weapons had been present during the coalition airstrikes, the strikes would have released clouds of chemicals into the area potentially exposing the civilian population to the possibility of collateral casualties. These criticisms suggest a basic misunderstanding of the function and delivery of most chemical weapons that employ a two-part “binary” chemical warhead. The chemical weapon payload is delivered to the target as two separate, inert chemicals that only become weaponized upon mixing them together during delivery.

As reported in Air Force Magazine on Monday, Commander of U.S. Air Combat Command, Air Force General Mike Holmes, said that, “When attacking a chemical weapons complex, the release of toxins can be mitigated by hitting it with a large number of weapons, thus burning up the chemicals.” Air Force Magazine went on to report that, “Barzeh was hit by 76 US missiles—19 JASSMs and 57 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles—with about 1,000 pounds of explosives each.” Presumably that number of weapons would mitigate the collateral effects of any weaponized chemicals destroyed by the strike.

Bomb damage assessment photos show the Barzah Research and Development Center used for chemical weapons development before and after the coalition air strikes on April 14, 2018. (Photo: AP)

Finally, Air Force Magazine reported that the Barzeh chemical facility in Syria, “Stored mainly ‘precursor’ chemicals, that had not yet been weaponized, so it should ‘not be surprising’ that there were no dangerous toxins detected after the strike.”

The information released today provides a clearer picture of how the strikes unfolded.

Top image credit: Author

We Went Air-to-Air With The Danish Vipers Supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing And Took These Stunning Photos

Baltic Air Policing is a regular mission held in the Baltic area, with the air policing assets stationed in Siauliai, Lithuania, and Amari, Estonia.

On Jan. 5. 2018 the duty in the Baltic region has been taken over by the Danes, who have deployed four F-16 Fighting Falcons to Lithuania, relieving the U.S. Air Force’s 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-15Cs off duty. The mission is a part of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defense (NIAMD).

The operation has been held regularly since the year 2004, as Lithuania and Baltic States’ air defense system lacks fighter force that would be able to provide air policing duties in this critical area. Due to the fact that the region is also critical in the light of the vicinity of Russia, it “offers” a lot of opportunities to meet the potential intruders in the air – here we are referring to the Russian Air Force whose aircraft, in international airspace, “test” the readiness of the QRA assets deployed by NATO in the region.

It shall be noted that even though initially the Baltic Air Policing operation had been hosted only by the Lithuanians, at the Siauliai airbase (which underwent significant expansion and modernization, for the sake of hosting the NATO assets), after the Russians gradually become more active and somehow aggressive, the operation has been enhanced.

During the peak period of the 2014 crisis in the Crimean Peninsula region, the deployments of air assets in the area were significantly enhanced, with USAF F-15Cs stationed at Šiauliai, supported by KC-135 tankers and the second Air Policing detachment stationed at the Amari Airbase in Estonia, where the Danes made their BAP debut. Furthermore, later that year, in May, the French deployed their Rafales to the Polish Air Force’s Malbork Airbase. Overall, the RDAF F-16s has operated in the Baltic area airspace in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2013 (operating from Siauliai), as well as in 2014 (as mentioned above – operating from the Estonian Amari Airbase).

The operation is coordinated from the German CAOC (Combined Air Operation Centre) in Ueden. This is where the orders for the assets stationed in the Baltic region come from.

Notably, an intra-detachment rotation scheme has been adopted by the Danes for their air-policing involvement this year, which makes it possible to have more crews deployed abroad. Furthermore, the intensity of the operation is going up. Last year around 130 Russian aircraft were intercepted in the area, whereas respectively 110 scrambles took place in 2016.  Previously, 160 operations were conducted in 2015 and 140 intercepts in 2014.

The Danes scrambled their jets for the first time this year back on Jan 25. In the morning that day the NATO radars in the area picked up a radar track which did not comply with the standard legal regulations imposed by ICAO and without any transponder signal. The suspicious aircraft was flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad, and it turned out it was a Russian fighter. To ensure safety in the airspace, the NATO jets are then tasked with escorting the unidentified plane until it reaches the destination or complies with the rules. This is required by the ATC services to perform their work safely and, for instance, to avoid the mid-air collisions that could be caused by the fact that aircraft with their transponders turned off do not appear on the civilian radar screens.

The activities in March required the jets to go up into the air several times a week. The general trend suggests that NATO is going to enhance the air policing operation in the region again soon. It has already been announced that the Spanish and Portuguese would deploy their assets to Siaullai as of beginning of the next month, which sees involvement on the part of two nations at a single base, complementing the units stationed in Amari.

Danish Vipers

During the air-to-air sortie we had a pleasure to participate in (many thanks go to the Siauliai PAOs for their immediate helpfulness and hospitality), we had a chance to experience a close encounter with the Danish Vipers. The Danes operate their modernized F-16 aircraft in the area.

The Danish military aviation component faced a problem back in the 1970s, as a need emerged to replace the aging fleet of the F-104 Starfighters. The issue was being challenging for other countries in the region back then, including Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands. Jointly, as the European Participating Air Forces, the aforesaid group became the first customers to get involved in a development program together with the US, concerning the Viper. The uniqueness of the said procurement stems from the fact that the EPAF airframes were not made in the US, but in Europe. The production facilities involved in the process included SABCA and Fokker factories in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Initially, according to F-16.net, the RDAF placed an order for 46 F-16As and 12 F-16Bs, with the deliveries beginning in 1980s. The jets later underwent Block 10 upgrade, at the works in Aalborg, as a part of the Pacer Loft I program. To replace the formerly used Saab Drakens, the Danes ordered another 12 Block 15 jets in 1984, including 4 two-seaters. These were not built in Denmark. Instead, the Dutch Fokker company took over the effort. This order was to replace the older aircraft that were subjected to wear. Another seven “attrition replacements” were delivered to Denmark in 1994 and 1997.

The Danish jets were modified, in order to meet the RDAF’s requirements. All of the Vipers are fitted with a search light on the port forward portion of the fuselage beneath the canopy, which is useful for night-time scrambles. A very similar modification is also applied in case of the Canadian Hornets. However, the change was implemented in case of the Danish Vipers at the ‘design’ stage, before they were manufactured. RDAF Vipers have been fitted with the light during the initial production. This modification is identical to the one implemented in case of the Norwegian aircraft, where the searchlight, with a 450W light bulb, has also been installed. Needless to say, even though this element is not a technologically advanced one, it proves very useful in air policing scenarios, during which a visual identification of the potential intruder is required during any night-time scrambles.

The second modification of the Danish Vipers which clearly distinguishes this airframe comes in a form of PIDS+ (Pylon Integrated Dispenser Station) and ECIPS+ (Electronic Countermeasures Integrated Pylon System) systems that have been widely used within the EPAF aircraft. The pods in question have been fitted onto wing stations 3 and 7 (ECIPS+ on the left and PIDS+ on the right wing). The aforesaid countermeasure systems have been manufactured by the Per Udsen Co. Aircraft Industry (Terma A/S since 1997) in Denmark. The dispenser section in PIDS houses either RR-170 or CCB chaff dispensers. The latter is of the same size, but houses double of the chaff quantity, when compared to the RR-170 – 60 charges instead of 30, as in case of the RR-170. Meanwhile, ECIPS+ may house electronic countermeasures, such as the AN/ALQ-162(V)6 system.

Furthermore PIDS and ECIPS pods also feature Cassidian Electronics AN/AAR-60 (V) 2 MILDS F sensors (MILDS F = Missile Launch Detection System, Fighter), which is a missile approach warning system based on a passive imaging sensor that detects the UV radiation signature of the approaching missiles, allowing the pilot to utilize countermeasures in an efficient manner. 6 MILDS F sensors (3 on each wing) and one processor have been integrated into the Terma A/S PIDS+ and ECIPS+ pylons. The sensor windows for MILDS F are clearly visible in the front and back portion of the pylons and constitute a distinguishable element of the Danish aircraft. MILDS system has been integrated on the RDAF F-16s back in 2007 (the contract was awarded to Terma in 2004).

Avionics-wise the main modifications include implementation of the Link 16 datalink and JHMCS helmet-mounted cueing system which could be spotted during our sortie with the jets – helmets featuring the JHMCS display were worn by the pilots in the cockpit. Interestingly, the Danes also found the default instrument panel clock to be not ideal, and fitted a cheap quartz watch next to the HUD, as the F-16.net website claims.

All RDAF F-16s have undertake Mid-Life Update, with all of the work carried out at the Aalborg based workshop facility.

The photo sortie involved E006 and E596. The latter jet comes from the initial order made by the RDAF to acquire their F-16s (deliveries between 1980 and 1983), while the former aircraft that acted as the flight lead during the photo operation was delivered within the framework of a follow on order, happening between 1987 and 1991.

The jets we have photographed were carrying AIM-9L Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAMs under their wings, which is a typical configuration adopted for the air policing duty. Note the yellow stripes on the missiles, meaning that we were accompanied by Vipers carrying live armament. Notably though the F-16s involved in our sortie over Siauliai did not carry the targeting pods – which are also an important and useful tool that is usually applied during air policing operations. During the photoshoot we were flying a Lithuanian Air Force C-27 Spartan. The external fuel tanks the jets were carrying extended the playtime we had to take the shots.

Epilogue

The Danish deployment is going to last until the beginning of May. The detachment is going to be replaced by the Spanish and the Portuguese, which would mean that yet again the rotation would have a doubled size at the Siauliai AB.

On Apr. 3, according to Forsal.pl. Dalia Grybauskiate, the Lithuanian President, claimed that Baltic Air Policing is not enough to protect the airspace in the region, and more defensive measures shall be put into place. She also referred to the Patriot air defence systems that are soon to be acquired by Poland as a significant enhancement of the regional security. “I hope that the United States, as well as other nations, understand the fact that protection of the Baltic States’ airspaces needs to be taken more seriously,” Grybauskiate said.

Written with Dawid Kamizela

Images: Dawid Kamizela and Jacek Siminski

The authors would like to thank the Siauliai AB staff for their hospitality and professional attitude we could have witnessed during the photoshoot.