Category Archives: Syria

Israeli Patriot Missiles Down Unidentified Syrian Sukhoi in Border Incursion

Missile Interception Continues Escalation of Tensions Between Israel and Syria.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) reports that Israeli Patriot missile batteries have engaged and downed an unspecified Syrian Air Force Sukhoi attack aircraft. The incident happened on Tuesday Jul. 24 afternoon local time in Israel at the northeastern border with Syria near the Israeli town of Safed.

Reports indicate the Patriot missile battery that downed the Syrian aircraft was inside Safed, Israel, but that the aircraft actually crashed within Syrian borders. The Syrian media has confirmed that one of their aircraft has crashed but maintains it was operating within Syrian airspace. Safed, Israel is only 43 miles from Daraa, Syria across a disputed border territory.

At this hour, it remains unclear if the aircraft downed was a Syrian Su-22 (NATO reporting name “Fitter”) or a Syrian Su-24 (NATO reporting name “Fencer”) according to the IDF. Syria has not specified the type of aircraft lost yet. Both of the aircraft use variable geometry swept wings or “swing wings” and are large ground attack aircraft difficult for laymen to differentiate visually from the ground, even though the nose of the aircraft are distinctly different.

Confused media reports are suggesting different aircraft as being involved in Tuesday’s incident. (Photo: Google)

Syria has lost Su-24s to Israeli air defense systems before. An Israeli MIM-104D Patriot missile battery engaged and downed a Syrian Su-24 on September 23, 2014 near Quneitra, Syria, after the aircraft strayed only 800 meters into Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights. That aircraft also crashed inside Syrian airspace after both crew members successfully ejected. Quneitra is considered Syrian territory by many, but was lost to the Israelis in the a succession of border conflicts and remains disputed although claimed by Syria.

Earlier this year on March 18, 2018, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported that a Syrian Su-24 had been shot down by Syrian Jaysh Tahrir al-Sham rebels over the Eastern Qalamoon mountains in Syria.

A Syrian Air Force Su-24M2 may have been the aircraft involved in Tuesday’s shoot-down, but this is unconfirmed. (Photo: Syrian AF via Southfront)

Israeli Defense Forces have reported an increase in Syrian air activity in this border region throughout the morning according to official Israeli sources.
“We have passed a number of messages, in a number of languages, in order to ensure that no one violates Israeli air space,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

The Times of Israel quoted Israel’s former Military Intelligence Director Amos Yadlin as saying, “Israel has a very clear policy: No plane, and certainly not a Syrian plane, is allowed to enter our airspace without the appropriate authorization. Any plane identified as an enemy plane is shot down.”

Top image: Smoke trails from the launch of Israeli Patriot missiles seen on July 24, 2018 where Syrian aircraft was downed and Patriot missile battery (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90 and IDF)

F-35 Stealth Aircraft Goes “Live” On Flight Tracking Websites As It Flies Mission Over Israel

An F-35, most probably one of the Adir jets recently delivered to the Israeli Air Force, appears on Flightradar24.com: deliberate action or just a case of bad OPSEC?

On Jul. 23, an F-35 went fully visible on popular flight tracking website Flightradar24.com as it performed a mission out of Nevatim airbase. The aircraft could be monitored for about 1 hour as it went “feet wet” (over the sea) north of Gaza then flew northbound to operate near Haifa.

Noteworthy, the F-35 used a US hex code (AF351F, first logged on Nov. 15, 2016 over at Live ModeS and since then regularly tracked in the US) even though it’s safe to believe it could be one of the Adir aircraft delivered to the Israeli Air Force in the last weeks. A hex code is a unique ICAO 24-bit address assigned to a Mode-S/ADS-B transponder.

According to Mil ModeS logs possible tailcode was 13-5067, even though this should be an F-35A that last June, based on the photographs available online, was assigned to the 6th Weapons Squadron, assigned to the USAF Weapons School, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Anyway, the F-35 flying over Israel yesterday did not broadcast its position via ADS-B but it could be tracked by means of Multilateration (MLAT). Using Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) MLAT measures the difference in time to receive the signal from four different receivers, to geolocate and track an aircraft even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

As we have widely explained here at The Aviationist (read here for a complete analysis):

The ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information is transmitted on 1090 MHz frequency: ground stations, other nearby aircraft as well as commercial off-the-shelf receivers available on the market as well as home-built ones, tuned on the same frequency, can receive and process this data.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder rely on a network of several hundred (if not thousand) feeders who receive and share Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders data and contribute growing the network and cover most of the planet.

Obviously, only ADS-B equipped aircraft flying within the coverage area of the network are visible.

Actually, in those areas where coverage is provided by several different ground stations, the position can be calculated also for those planes that do not broadcast their ADS-B data by means of Multilateration (MLAT). […]

Although the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track using a browser (or smartphone’s app) using the above mentioned Web-based tracking services are civil airliners and business jets, military aircraft are also equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders: a 2010 Federal Aviation Administration rule requires all military aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B transponders by Jan. 1, 2020, as part of its program to modernize the air transportation system.

As for the reasons why the aircraft could be tracked online, there are various theories. The first one is that it was a deliberate action: considered the F-35 went “live” few hours Israel made first operational use of David’s Sling missile defense system against two SS-21 Syrian ballistic missiles, there is someone who believes the mission was part of a PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies (Syria in particular). Our readers will probably remember the weird, most probably bogus claim of an IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Al-Jarida newspaper, a Kuwaiti outlet often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages.

However the Israeli Air Force has already made public the fact that the F-35 has been used in air strikes in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately.  On May 23, the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world: “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity”. He also showed a photograph of an “Adir” flying at high altitude off Beirut (with radar reflectors, hence not in “stealthy mode”). In other words, there’s probably no need to remind Syria or Iran that the Israeli Air Force has the F-35 since they are already using it in combat.

For this reason, there is also someone who believes that the first appearance of an Israeli Adir on Flightradar24 may have been a simple mistake: the Mode-S transponder was not turned off. A case of OPSEC fail in one of the most secretive air arms in the world.

Indeed, transponders are usually turned off during real operations as well as when conducting missions that need to remain invisible (at least to public flight tracking websites and commercial off the shelf receivers). Unless the transponder is turned on for a specific purpose: to let the world know they are there. In fact, as reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether some aircraft that can be tracked online broadcast their position for everyone to see by accident or on purpose: increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them. Is it a way to show the flag? Or just a mistake?

Here’s what we have been observing for some 7 years:

[…] during the opening stages of the Libya Air War in 2011 some of the combat aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net. And despite pilots all around the world know the above mentioned flight tracking websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations, making their aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection. As a consequence, we have been highlighting the the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions for years. In 2014 we discovered that a U.S. plane possibly supporting ground troops in Afghanistan acting as an advanced communication relay can be regularly tracked as it circled over the Ghazni Province. Back then we explained that the only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations. US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757 operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks), American and Russian “doomsday planes”, tanker aircraft and even the Air Force One, along with several other combat planes can be tracked every now and then on both FR24.com and PF.net.

So, what’s your take on this? The “F-35 visible over Israel” was a deliberate action or a mistake? Let us know in the comments section.

H/T to @CivMilAir and Righardt du Plessis for providing help in preparing this story. Top image credit: IAF and FR24.com

Here Are The First Photographs Of U.S. Air Force C-17 and Marine Corps KC-130J Operating From New U.S. Airfield in Northern Syria

U.S. Air Forces Central Command has just released some photographs from an “undisclosed location”: geolocation proves they are the first from a recently-built airbase in northern Syria.

CENTCOM has just published some interesting photographs of U.S. assets supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. In particular, the images depict U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J operating from an austere runway at what the official captions refer to as an “undisclosed location”.

Here is one of those images:

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130 Hercules departs from an undisclosed location, June 22, 2018. The C-130 transported personnel and supplies to another location in the area of operations in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). In conjunction with partner forces, CJTF-OIR’s mission is to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and set conditions to increase regional stability. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

However, the new images, taken between Jun. 20 and 23, 2018 and released by CENTCOM Public Affairs earlier today, were immediately geolocated by the OSINT investigator and famous Twitter user Samir (@obretix).

Therefore, those you can find in this post are, to our knowledge, the very first photographs showing operations at a new U.S./Coalition military base in Syria’s northeastern province of Al-Hasakah whose construction works were exposed by OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analysis of satellite pictures in 2017 and completion appeared to be imminent or just finished at the end of April 2018:

 

Another U.S. airfield is located in northern Syria: Sarrin. The base was built in 2016 and the first aircraft appeared to operate from there in July 2017. Here below you can find a tweet with some recent images from there:

Noteworthy, the images released today of the operations at the new airfield in Syria show an interesting KC-130J. This airframe (serial 167110), whose main role is to act as an aerial refueler, has a pretty career: back in 2010, the aircraft deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was fitted with what was been dubbed the Harvest Hawk weapons system. Along with the traditional air-to-air refueling, and cargo and troop transportation tasks, the KC-130J from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California carried out several Close Air Support missions earning many mission markings firing AGM-114K and Griffin missiles.

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130J Hercules flies over an undisclosed location after departure, June 22, 2018. The C-130 was transporting personnel and supplies to another location in Combined Joint Task Force’s area of operations. The KC-130J Hercules supports expeditionary operations by providing air-to-air refueling, rapid ground refueling and logistic support to operating forces. Tactical transportation of personnel or cargo includes aerial delivery or austere landing zone operations. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

H/T @obretix for the help in writing this article

Israeli Air Force Fires Patriot Missile At Drone That Approached Israel’s border with Syria

The missile launch did not result in a downing: the UAV moved away from the border and was not hit by the Patriot.

The Israeli Air Force has just confirmed it has fired a Patriot missile at an incoming drone from Syria. No direct hit was reported as the unmanned aircraft retreated back toward Syria and didn’t violate the Israeli airspace.

Footage has appeared on social media showing the smoke trail left by the missile fired by the Israeli battery.

As a side note and possibly unrelated, this is the ADS-B “picture” of the Israeli airspace minutes after the Patriot was fired. There were two IAF B707s (including one using c/s “Giant” that could be a C&C aircraft based on many reports) and one G-V Nachshon Shavit spyplane.

The “picture” of the Israeli airspace moments after the Patriot missile fired. (Credit: VR)

 

Image Of Israeli F-35 Flying Off Beirut (With Radar Reflectors) As Well As More Details About The Adir’s First Strikes Emerge

A photograph of an Israeli Air Force F-35 flying (more or less..) “over” Beirut has been made public. Interestingly, the image seems to prove the stealthy aircraft was flying with radar reflectors.

As reported yesterday, the Israeli Air Force F-35 stealth aircraft have had their baptism of fire taking part in air strike in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately. “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity” the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world. Interestingly, Norkin also presented an image showing an IAF F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon that was not released in first place but surfaced on social media on May 23.

Here it is:

The somehow blurry image is interesting for at least a couple of reasons: first of all, it shows the aircraft flying at high altitude off (rather than “over”) Beirut. Second, it seems to show that the aircraft was also operating with radar reflectors (highlighted in the image below), hence not in “stealthy mode”:

Highlighted in a screenshot from Israel Television News Company one of the F-35’s four radar reflectors.

Here’s what radar reflectors, also known as RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers, are as explained in a previous article this Author posted here at The Aviationist earlier this year:

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area

The two radar reflectors installed on the right side of the F-35. The other two are on the other side.

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

According to Nir Dvori, the journalist who first published the image of the stealth aircraft off Beirut seemingly flying with RCS enhancers, “they test [the F-35] in all kind of options. Fly with and without reflectors”. Indeed, the use of RCS enhancers would simply mean that stealthiness was not required for that specific mission during which they preferred to hide the aircraft’s stealth features preventing the enemy to collect data about the aircraft and test their radar hardware against the Lightning II. Moreover, the F-35 appears to be flying off Lebanon, accompanied by another aircraft (the photo ship), possibly another F-35 or a completely different type – even a G550 like those that continuously fly off Lebanon and Syria and are trackable by means of their Mode-S transponders. This means that the photo might well have been taken during a simple “recon” mission rather than a combat one. Meanwhile, according to Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer:

Not all the missions that the F-35 has so far carried out needed this [stealth] capability. They took part in an airstrike on a Hamas tunnel on the border of the Gaza Strip. Hamas does not have radar, but F-35s were used on this relatively simple mission as part of the process through which its proves it various capabilities. More complex operations against Iranian and Hezbollah targets north of Israel would have utilized its stealth capabilities and some of these did not necessarily involve the F-35 launching missiles itself.

Therefore, it seems confirmed that:

  1. Not all F-35 missions required stealth capabilities
  2. The Adir jets were also used against “easy” targets
  3. The F-35s have taken part in missions during those the Adir did not drop bombs (therefore, it probably acted as “combat battlefield coordinator,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence possibly sharing targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft).
  4. The image seems to prove the F-35 have flown at high-altitude off Beirut (someone says it might have been in international airspace, 12 Nautical Miles from the coast, when the shot was taken, but this can’t be verified based on the screenshot only).

Disclaimer: to our knowledge and based on the sources available on the Internet, those four bumps highlighted in the images you can find in this post are indeed radar reflectors. Several magazines and publications also refer to them as RCS enhancers or Luneberg lenses. Still, if we are wrong and these are EW signal emitters as someone claims, please let us know. Furthermore, the top image is a screenshot from a slide presented during a IAF conference not an actual photograph.