Category Archives: Syria

“Because I Was… Inverted!” Everything You Need To Know About The Photo Of An F-35C Firing An AIM-9X During Inverted Flight

Check Out These Cool Photos of the F-35C That Would Make Maverick and Goose and Jealous.

How many chances will the U.S. Navy’s F-35C have to launch a close-range, advanced air-to-air dogfighting missile like Raytheon’s AIM-9X in combat while flying upside down? The answer is *probably* none.

But in the unlikely event a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II does go into a dogfighting “furball” and it turns into a real-world remake of “Top Gun” without Tom Cruise, Lockheed Martin needed to be sure the F-35C could perform.

This missile launch test at the Patuxent River Naval Base in Maryland on the east coast of the U.S. demonstrated this rather unlikely capability was possible.

Flight test aircraft CF-2 performed the capability demonstration on June 8, 2017 and was photographed by Lockheed Martin photographer Dane Wiedmann using a Nikon D4 camera with a 24-70mm zoom lens while flying high right (or is it left when inverted?) formation in a chase aircraft.

Wiedmann shot the impressive photos at 1/1600 shutter speed to freeze the fast accelerating missile leaving the rails and f-stop 5.0 using ISO 400 setting. Wiedmann took the images early in the day, before 9:00 AM local time, accounting for the nice lighting.

Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 Launches an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile while flying inverted. (Photo: Dane Widdeman for Lockheed Martin)

The missile launch demonstration was flown by U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Major Eric Northam of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three, VX-23, based at Patuxent. Major Northam is a highly experienced tactical aircraft test pilot with extensive experience in the F/A-18 Hornet in addition to the F-35C.

It is noteworthy that the flight test was flown by Major Northam, a USMC test pilot, on an F-35C, the U.S. Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. Marines fly the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B.

USMC Test Pilot Major Eric Northam of USMC flight test and evaluation unit VX-23 (Photo: Eric Northam via Facebook)

As a side note, an AIM-9X, the world’s most advanced infraredtracking, shortrange air-to-air and surface-to-air missile, fired by a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet at a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 that had dropped munitions near U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, surprisingly missed its target. According to CNN, the VFA-87’s Super Hornet locked onto the Su-22 Fitter at a range of 1.5 miles and fired an AIM-9X: the Syrian pilot released flares to successfully lure the infrared guided missile away from his tail. The Syrian jet was eventually downed by the same Super Hornet with an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air To Air Missile).

With the frequent popular media criticism of the F-35 program and a lingering narrative of program limitations that, according to some analysts really don’t exist, these tests for flight and weapons performance at the outer edges of the mission envelope seem to send a promising signal that the F-35 is capable across its entire mission requirement set, including unusual outlying mission requirements like inverted missile launches.

The capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continue to be demonstrated across all types and services. Between Aug. 4 and Aug. 11, 2017, the U.S. Air Force conducted the first ever delivery of GBU-31 2,000-pound precision guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or “JDAM’s” at the Utah Test and Training Range near Hill AFB.

Pilots and Airmen of the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings operated the USAF’s F-35A Lightning II during the evaluations, named “Combat Hammer”. This was the first Air Force conducted operational evaluation of air-to-ground munitions for the F-35A following Lockheed Martin verification of capability tests. Official U.S. Air Force media sources quoted the performance of the tests to have, “above average mission and sortie rates”.

USAF Colonel Tim Smith, Commander of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron detachment located at Hill AFB told media, “Overall, everything went as planned and all participating units performed very well, including the 34th Fighter Squadron F-35As.”

A USAF F-35A drops a GBU-31 2,000-pound JDAM over the Utah Test and Training Range on August 10, 2017. (Photo: Scott Wolff via USAF)

 

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The U.S. Air Force Wants To Use The B-52 Strategic Bomber For Leaflet Drops During PSYOPS Missions

Testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron are looking to see if B-52 Stratofortress bombers can undertake psychological operations dropping leaflets with messages.

Along with nuclear bombs and several other weapons, the U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers may one day be used to drop leaflets.

Indeed, the Air Force has recently completed two successful sorties, where testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron, from Edwards Air Force Base, California, released eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range and eight more over the Precision Impact Range Area on Edwards.

“We are primarily looking to see safe separation from the external Heavy Stores Adapter Beam,” said Kevin Thorn, 419th FLTS B-52 air vehicle manager in a USAF public release. “We are ensuring that the bombs do not contact the aircraft, and/or each other, creating an unsafe condition. Additionally we are tracking the reliability of the bomb functioning.”

Leaflets with messages used to communicate with the locals or with the enemy troops (persuading them to surrender) have been part of the PSYOPS for decades. Such leaflets can be distributed in several different ways, including drops from a vast variety of aircraft, in order to reach a wide area.

For instance, in 2015, U.S. F-15E Strike Eagles dropped leaflets over Islamic State insurgents in Syria using PDU-5B leaflet canisters; in 2012, air drop of leaflets in support of Information Operations were conducted by the U.S. Army above Helmand province, Afghanistan, using U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in areas of the Helmand province unreachable by conventional communication. During the Air War in Libya, in 2011, U.S. Air Force EC-130s broadcast radio messages to the Libyan military to persuade them to return to their families before it was too late, whereas Italian C-130J aircraft dropped leaflets over Tripoli to counter Gaddafi’s regime propaganda in Libya’s capital city.

Leaflets have been also air dropped by Syrian Arab Air Force Mil Mi-8 helicopters over Aleppo in August 2012 to urge rebels to surrender to the Syrian Army and even Israeli A-4 dropped leaflets over the northern Gaza Strip in November 2012, to call for civilians to stay away from terrorist target areas and emphasize that Hamas was responsible for the situation in the Strip.

Today, testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron are looking to see if the world’s most iconic strategic bomber can accomplish this task.

The B-52 used a PDU-5/B, a new-use or variant of an older Cluster Bomb Uni designated MK 20 Rockeye II, SUU-76B/B, and/or CBU-99/100 depending on the type of filler used in the bomb.

The PDU-5/B (the same used by the F-15E mentioned above), can deliver about 60,000 leaflets; it was first deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom before any Air Force munitions began hitting targets in Baghdad, Iraq.

“Without the capability to carry PDU-5s on the B-52 aircraft, the impending shortfall on leaflet dispersal capability will jeopardize Air Force Central Command information operations,” said Earl Johnson, B-52 PDU-5/B project manager. The “Buff” can carry 16 PDU-5s under the wings, making it able to distribute 900,000 leaflets in a single sortie.

The testing the PDU-5/B on the B-52 is complete for now even though the program is forecasted to return at a future date to test PDU-5/B releases from the B-52’s internal weapons bay.

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 419th Flight Test Squadron with eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs underneath the left wing. The PDU-5/B is a repurposed Cluster Bomb Unit used to release leaflets (paper cut into a specific size). Leaflets are generally dropped during U.S. military psychological operations overseas. When released from the aircraft, a fuse is set to a certain time to tell the bomb to detonate and release the leaflets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)

 

Russian Tu-95 Bear Bombers Escorted By Su-30SM Jets Carry Out Air Strike In Syria Using Kh-101 Strategic Cruise Missiles

Russian Global Strike show of force in Syria.

On Jul. 5, Tu-95MS Bear strategic missile platforms conducted an air strike on ISIS targets the Russian MoD reported.

The Russia Air Force bombers, launched from Engels, near Saratov in the southwestern part of Russia and the base hosting Russian Long Range Aviation strategic bombers, and supported by Il-76/78 tankers and Su-30SM fighters, that provided air cover, attacked targets located on the border of the provinces of Hama and Homs, in Syria.

“As a result of the missile strike 3 large warehouses of weapons and ammunition, as well as a command post of terrorists near the town of Akerbat were destroyed. This was confirmed by data of objective control,” says the Russian MoD release, that also highlights the use, from 1,000 km, of the Kh-101 strategic air-launched LO (Low Observable) cruise missile.

The Raduga Kh-101 missile is believed to use a combination of inertial guidance and satellite navigation using the Russian GLONASS system, with opto-electronic flight correction system;  it features a CEP (Circular Error Probable) of less than 30 feet.

This is not the first time the Russian bombers use the cruise missile (with a maximum range of 4,500 km) that can also be equipped with a nuclear warhead. On Nov. 17, 2015 the Russian Air Force launched 25 heavy bombers against ISIS ground targets in Syria, including 5 x Tu-160 Blackjack, carrying the then new Kh-101 cruise missiles. It was the combat debut for the Russian stealthy cruise missile.

Between Nov. 19 and 20, 2015 the Russian Air Force conducted a very long-range strike mission against IS targets in Syria that saw two Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers depart from the Kola Peninsula, skirt the airspace of Norway and the UK, fly over the Atlantic until Gibraltar, enter the Mediterranean sea and then eastbound towards Syria to launch the stealthy KH-101 cruise missiles. More recently, both on Nov. 17, 2016, and Feb. 17, 2017, Tu-95s (able to carry 8 Kh-101s) fired the LO cruise missiles against targets in Syria.

Interestingly, although not trackable online, the radio activity listened by radio hams and aviation enthusiasts on the HF frequencies used by the Russian strategic bombers could be a hint that some Bears (or Blackjacks) were airborne:

 

Image credit: Russia MoD

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U.S. Intelligence Gathering Aircraft Amass Off Syria As Assad Visits Russian Detachment Near Latakia

U.S. RC-135 Rivet Joint and other spyplanes operating in international airspace off Syria. While a WC-135 “nuke sniffer” flew towards the Black Sea.

The White House’s warning about an imminent chemical attack and the visit Assad paid to Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, today are among the most likely reasons for a rather unusual presence of U.S. spyplanes off Syria in the last couple of days.

Once again, the hint of a busy intelligence gathering operation underway along the coasts of western Syria comes from the signals collected by aircraft spotters, airband listeners and ADS-B monitors, who have reported the movements of U.S. Air Force RC-135s along with a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft.

Among those who have tracked the flights, the famous ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast running the popular @CivMilAir and @ADSBTweetBot Twitter feeds, who has traced the missions of one RC-135U Combat Sent (that had already operated in the same area yesterday), one RC-135V Rivet Joint and one P-8 Poseidon on Jun. 27, more or less as Assad posed for some photos inside the cockpit of a Russian Sukhoi deployed to Syria.

The Rivet Joint is the USAF’s standard (SIGINT) gathering platform, meaning that it can eavesdrop and pinpoint “enemy” radio signals, and disseminate the details about these targets via tactical data-link to other aircraft, while the Combat Sent is designed to collect technical intelligence on adversary radar emitter systems. The P-8 is the U.S. Navy’s multi-role surveillance platform with the ability to snoop enemy communications and signals. In other words, three of the most important ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) assets in the U.S. inventory were flying in the airspace off Lebanon and Syria earlier today: were they flying there at the same time by accident? Or, as it seems more likely, they were looking for something specific?

Another interesting movement that might be related to the situation in Syria was the WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuke sniffer” that, using the radio callsign “Lando 90” flew from RAF Mildenhall, where it deployed on Jun. 22, towards the Black Sea on Jun. 26. Although the atmospheric collections aircraft used to detect the radioactive particles that result from a nuclear detonation, could be on a “pre-planned deployment” (as the official press release usually state regardless of the actual reason behind the presence of the WC-135 around the world…) it has long been speculated that it can carry sensors even capable to detect chemical substances down wind from the attack area days, or week after they were dispersed.

Once again, it might be a coincidence. Or not.

H/T @avischarf. Image credit: @CivMilAir

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U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet Downs Syrian Su-22 Near Raqqa, Syria. And Here Is Everything We Know.

Navy Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 Scores Victory over Syrian Su-22.

Updated with the statement from the Russian MoD.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.

According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.

The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.

The action began at approximately 4:30 PM local time on Sunday, Jun. 18 when Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched a ground attack on anti-regime Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) aligned with the U.S. led Coalition and inflicted casualties on the anti-Assad fighters.

Coalition combat aircraft immediately conducted a low-altitude “show of force” pass on the pro-Assad attackers and were successful in de-conflicting the two sides and halting the advance of pro-Assad forces on Coalition-friendly SDF positions.

As a result of the contact unspecified Coalition assets utilized a secure communication “de-confliction line” to contact Russian assets with communications to both sides in an effort to compel a cease-fire for both sides.

The Russian attempt at de-confliction failed at 6:43 PM local time when a pro-Assad Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft appeared on scene and bombed Coalition-friendly SDF positions. The attacking Syrian Su-22 was “Immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet” according to an official statement issued by the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve. The U.S. Navy F/A-18E was launched from the aircraft carrier USS George Bush (CVN-77) as it maintains patrol in the Mediterranean in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet aboard the USS George Bush (CVN-77). (Photo: US Navy)

In the official statement released from the Coalition about the incident the Combined Joint Task Force stated, “The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition partner forces from any threat.”

Even though the air-to-air victory would be the first for the U.S. on a manned enemy combat aircraft since February 2008 according to some sources, the last confirmed U.S. kill dates back to 1999, during Operation Allied Force, when a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon shot down a Serbian MiG-29 Fulcrum. A U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle shot down an unmanned Iranian-made Shahed-129 armed drone on Thursday, June 8 this year.

The U.S. destroyed nine Syrian Air Force aircraft in a large Tomahawk cruise missile strike on the Shayrat Air Base earlier this year on April 7, 2017. Among the Syrian Air Force air craft destroyed by the cruise missile attack were five Su-22M3s, one Su-22M4, and three MiG-23ML aircraft. The attack was a Coalition response to the alleged Syrian chemical weapons strike on Khan Shaykhun on April 4. At least 74 people died in the chemical attack with hundreds more wounded, including children.

A fully armed Syrian Air Force SU-22 in a bombproof revetment. (Photo: RT)

A Syrian Air Force SU-22 taxis outside its bombproof revetment. (Photo: RT)

The action over Syria marks a significant escalation in the conflict and establishes the resolve of the Coalition to achieve its goals in the region in addition to sending a clear message that the control of the airspace rests with the Coalition and not with Assad’s remaining forces.

A Syrian Air Force SU-22. (Photo: RT)

And here’s the response to the downing from the Russian MoD:

Statement of the Russian Defence Ministry concerning downing of the Syrian Su-22 near the town of Resafa

On June 18, 2017 the American fighter F-18A belonging to the international coalition shot down the Su-22 aircraft of the Syrian Air Force, which was performing a combat mission supporting the government troops, which were conducting the offensive against the ISIS terrorists near the town of Resafa (40 km to the south-west of the city of Raqqa).

As a result of the attack, the Syrian aircraft was destroyed. The pilot baled out over an ISIS-controlled area, his status is unknown.

The destruction of the aircraft of the Syrian Air Force by the American aviation in the air space of Syria – is a cynical violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Numerous combat activities of the US aviation carried out under the cover of “fight against terrorism” aimed against the legitimate Armed Forces of a UN-member is a blatant breach of the international law and is in fact an act of military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.

Moreover, at that time the aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces were also performing combat missions in the air space of Syria. However, the Command of the coalition forces did not use the existing channels of communication between the Command of the Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar) and the Hmeymim Air Base Command to prevent air incidents in the air space of Syria.

The Russian party considers those actions of the US Command as an intentional failure to fulfill its obligations within the Memorandum on prevention of incidents and providing of flight security during the operations in Syria dated October 20, 2015.

Since June 19, 2017, the Russian Defence Ministry has stopped the cooperation with the American party within the Memorandum on prevention of incidents and providing of flight security during the operations in Syria and demands a thorough investigation of the incident by the US Command with further providing of information on its results and the taken measures.

In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.

Therefore, the Russians will “track” as air targets the US-led coalition aircraft of all types: although this seems to suggest a unilateral NFZ established over Syria, the public release does not say they will “engage” the coaltion planes.

Let’s see what happens next.

 

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