Category Archives: War on ISIS

The Reason U.S. F-22 Stealth Jets and Russian Su-35S Flankers Are Shadow Boxing Over Syria May Have Nothing to Do with Syria

Are U.S. And Russia in Last-Minute Intelligence Grab Over Syria?

International news media has been crackling with reports of intercept incidents between U.S. and Russian combat aircraft along the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) de-confliction line over Syria since late November. Two incidents, one on November 23 and another two days ago on December 13, made headlines in Russia and the U.S. with differing accounts of the incidents and the reasons they happened. We reported on the first one of these incidents here.

With the war on ISIS in Syria reportedly reaching its final phase according to many analysts, especially Russian, are these last few months of Russian/U.S. close proximity operations a rare opportunity for both parties to gather a significant amount of intelligence about each other’s’ capabilities? The answer is likely “yes”.

There are reportedly about 3,000 ISIS insurgents left in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) area according to intelligence reports, and it is possible those remaining insurgents may be purposely seeking refuge in this region because of the complex de-confliction requirements between U.S. and Russian air forces. These de-confliction requirements could compromise the response times of both sides to conduct effective air strikes against ISIS due to the risks of potentially unintentional conflict.

The encounters between Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria are not new. “We saw anywhere from six to eight incidents daily in late November, where Russian or Syrian aircraft crossed into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command told U.S. news outlet CNN on Saturday. “It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots are deliberately testing or baiting us into reacting, or if these are just honest mistakes.”

Lt. Col. Pickart went on to tell news media, “The greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces.”

As the complex, multi-party proxy war over Syria appears to be winding down these final weeks provide what may be a last, great opportunity for a rich “intelligence grab” for both the U.S. and Russia about their newest aircraft’ capabilities when flying in controlled opposition to one another. Picture a “Red Flag” exercise where the “red air” element is actually “red”, albeit with live weapons and higher stakes.

ntelligence gathered by using the U.S. F-22 against the latest Russian SU-35s will likely be invaluable in assessing future tactics and understanding Russian capabilities. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

USAF Lt. Col. Pickart’s remarks about the Russians “deliberately testing or baiting us” are indicative of a force managing interactions to collect sensor, intelligence and capability “order of battle”. This intelligence is especially relevant from the current Syrian conflict as it affords both the Russians and the U.S. with the opportunity to operate their latest combat aircraft in close proximity to gauge their real-world sensor capabilities and tactical vulnerabilities, as well as learn doctrine. It is likely the incidents occurring now over Syria, and the intelligence gleaned from them, will be poured over in detail for years to come.

For instance, we have often explained how Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” over Syria, providing escort to strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. In fact, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy, performing ELINT-like missions and then sharing the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

Moreover, as we have reported, it is well known that the U.S. has operated relatively current Russian aircraft photographed in air combat simulation training in the remote desert over Nevada. But those aircraft are at least an entire generation behind the current Russian aircraft flying over Syria in the final phase of the vigorous anti-ISIS Russian air operations.

Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 aircraft were photographed last year over the Nevada test ranges near where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz’s accident may have occurred. (Credit: Phil Drake)

The danger of these close-quarter Russian/U.S. shadow boxing matches is that one of them could accidentally “turn hot”. Since both sides are carrying live weapons the reliance on maintaining adherence to current Rules of Engagement (ROE) on both parties is critical.

Another risk is air-to-air collision.

New York Times reporter Eric Schmidt wrote about an incident in November when, “In one instance, two Air Force A-10 attack planes flying east of the Euphrates River nearly collided head-on with a Russian Su-24 Fencer just 300 feet away — a knife’s edge when all the planes were streaking at more than 350 miles per hour. The A-10s swerved to avoid the Russian aircraft, which was supposed to fly only west of the Euphrates.”

The risks of this new-age cold war over Syria going hot are likely worth it in terms of the intelligence being collected on both sides though. It is reasonable to suggest that, with the recent media attention to the incidents, the pressure to keep this cold war from getting hot are greater than ever.

Hopefully those pressures on both the Russian and the U.S. air forces will keep this new version of the cold war from boiling over.

Deployment of Russia’s latest SU-35 to Syria will give the Russians a wealth of information about how the aircraft performs against the U.S F-22 Raptor in the ongoing shadow-boxing between the two aircraft over the Middle Euphrates River Valley. (Photo: Sputnik)

U.S. F-22 Stealth Jets Perform Raptor’s First Ever Air Strike In Afghanistan Employing Small Diameter Bombs

U.S. F-22 Raptor Stealth Aircraft Carried Out First Raid In Afghanistan.

“Over the past 24 hours, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted combined operations to strike seven Taliban drug labs and one command-and-control node in northern Helmand province. Three of those strikes were in Kajaki district, four in Musa Qalah district and one in Sangin district,” says an official NATO press release.

The night air strikes targeted plantations of poppy (processed into illegal opiate drugs such as heroin) in Helmand Province: opiates have become a global health, economic and security problem, and the Taliban are responsible for up to 85 percent of the world’s opium production. “It’s estimated that more than $200 million of this economy goes straight into the Taliban’s bank accounts.”

Noteworthy, for the very first time, U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptors took part in the air strikes in Afghanistan “principally because of their ability to mitigate civilian casualties and inadvertent damage by employing small diameter bombs during U.S. airstrikes.” The F-22s, operated alongside B-52 bombers, Hellfire missiles fired from drones, and U.S. Marine Corps-operated High-Mobility Rocket Systems that were “pivotal in the first night of strike successes.”

The U.S. Air Force Raptor stealth multi-role jet had its baptism of fire flying Swing Role missions in support of the air war on ISIS on Sept. 23, 2014. Tasked for air-to-ground missions, the F-22 can carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, along with AIM-120s AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) radar-guided missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder IR-guided missiles.

Since software increment 3.1 embedded back in 2012, the F-22 can also drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets, equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range. These bombs are particularly useful to improve accuracy and reduce collateral damage.

Along with the ability to carry PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), in the last few years the aircraft were also given a radar upgrade that enhanced the F-22 capabilities in the realm of air interdiction and the so-called “kinetic situational awareness”: as we have often explained in previous articles, the role that the Raptor plays in Operation Inherent Resolve is to use advanced onboard sensors, such as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to gather valuable details about the enemy targets, then share the “picture” with attack planes as the F-15E Strike Eagles.

Interestingly, in an interview given at the end of 2013, General Hawk Carlisle said 5th generation aircraft would provide forward target identification for strike missiles launched from a surface warship or submerged submarine, in the future. The PACAF commander described the ability of the F-22s, described as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich aircraft,” to provide forward targeting through their sensors for submarine based T-LAMS (cruise missiles).

The F-22s were supported by KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, also based at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, during their first action in Afghanistan in the night of Nov. 20.

 

 

U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Crashes In Syria. Two Injured.

It’s the third Osprey crash this year.

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey has crashed in Syria on Sept. 29, according to defense officials.

Two servicemen were injured in the crash; their conditions are not life-threatening.

The cause of the incident has not been unveiled, but it was not caused by enemy activity, an official said on the condition of anonymity to Stars & Stripes. The Osprey was heavily damaged in what has been described as a “hard landing” and could not be salvaged: for this reason it was destroyed “by the troops” (not clear how – maybe hit with a PGM dropped by a combat aircraft as done in the past?)

 

The unit the MV-22 and two injured servicemembers have not been disclosed: the U.S. DoD Pentagon acknowledges having some 500 troops inside Syria training and assisting Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against ISIS militants.

Noteworthy, the one in Syria is the third major accident involving an Osprey this year.

On Jan. 29, one American Special Operations commando was killed and three others were injured in a firefight with Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen. A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft called in to evacuate the wounded American soldiers crash landed, injuring 2 service members. The Osprey was intentionally destroyed in place by a U.S. Air Force F-16 raid once it was determined that it could not leave the crash landing site.

On Aug. 5, an MV-22 Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was involved in a mishap off of the east coast of Australia. The tilt-rotor aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and was conducting regularly scheduled operations when the crashed. Three Marines died in the accident.

Top image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

 

Russian Tu-95 “Bear” Bombers Hit Daesh Terrorist Camps With KH-101 Cruise Missiles In Long Range Strike

Cruise Missile Attack from Russia Avenges Lieutenant General Valery Asapov Death.

Russian long-range Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” bombers launched cruise missile strikes against targets said to be controlled by Daesh Takfiri terrorists in the Syrian provinces of Deir al-Zour and Idlib on Sept. 26, 2017.

The strikes were largely in retaliation for the death of a high-level Russian commander in the region, Lieutenant General Valery Asapov. Asapov was most recently reported as commander of the 5th Red Banner Army. He was posted to Syria on special assignment as a senior military adviser. Lieutenant General Asapov died in a mortar attack by Daesh terrorists during operations outside Dayr al-Zawr over the weekend. Asapov’s death happened approximately 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Some Russian internet blogs have partially blamed U.S. interference, including intelligence leaks in the region, for Lieutenant General Asapov’s death.

The bombers that conducted the long-range cruise missile strikes were Russian Air Force Tu-95MS “Bear H” or “MSM” version aircraft likely belonging to the 184th Guards Heavy Bomber Regiment, named the “Sevastopol” regiment, after the historic siege of Sevastopol from 1941-42. The aircraft are the most modern examples of the aging Tupolev turboprop strategic bomber that first flew in 1952. The TU-95MSM first saw combat over Syria in November, 2016.

The Russian Tu-95 is roughly analogous to the U.S. B-52 Stratofortress eight engine all turbojet strategic bomber that made its first flight in the same year. By contrast, the Tu-95 uses four unique turboprop powerplants turning large, counter-rotating propellers. The Russians settled on turboprops with the Tupolev trademark contra-rotating propellers to improve un-refueled range while maintaining relatively high speed. Benefits of the Tupolev/Kuznetsov powered turboprops include relatively high speed and extremely long-range. The TU-95 has an unrefueled range of 9,400 miles compared the U.S. B-52 range of “only” 8,800 miles, roughly 7% less range than the “Bear”. Speeds between the U.S. B-52, B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and decidedly non-stealthy Tu-95 are similar, with the B-52 having a top speed of about 644 MPH, the B-2 Spirit at about 628 MPH and the Russian TU-95 at a relatively competitive 575 MPH even with its turboprop engines compared to the jet-powered B-52 and B-2. Top speed difference between the Russian Tu-95 and the American B-2 is only about 8%.

The Tu-95MS bombers used the new Russian KH-101 cruise missile in the attacks on Deir al-Zour and Idlib on Tuesday.

The KH-101 is a recently developed long range cruise missile roughly analogous to the U.S. Tomahawk family of cruise missiles. Eight KH-101 cruise missiles can be carried by a Tu-95 bomber, although video from the recent Syrian strike only showed four of the missiles on the Tu-95 MS aircraft.

The new Russian KH-101 stealth, long-range cruise missile was used in the strike. (Photo: Russian Air Force)

The KH-101 cruise missile has an effective combat range of 2,790-3,000 miles (about 4,500+ kilometers) and can carry a variety of different warheads depending on the target to be struck. This newest of the Russian cruise missiles is reported to have low-observable (“stealth”) characteristics and is capable of adjusting its targeting while in flight to the assigned target. It’s accuracy is reported as “within 10 meters”. Russian media reports showed the missiles striking large buildings as well as encampments in the Syrian desert.

The Russian Bear/KH101 strikes on Deir al-Zour and Idlib were escorted by a number of some version of Sukhoi Su-27 fighter aircraft as the strike package flew over Iran and Iraq on the way to the missile launch point.

Top image credit: Russia Air Force

Here’s The Video Of The Syrian Su-22 Fitter Being Shot Down By A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet

F/A-18E Super Hornet vs Su-22 Fitter near Raqqa, as seen through the Hornet’s ATFLIR.

On Jun. 18, F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors” and piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Michael “Mob” Tremel,” shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter near the town of Resafa (40 km to the southwest of Raqqa, Syria).

The VFA-31 Tomcatters, also embarked on USS George Bush (CVN-77) supporting Operation Inherent Resolve from the Mediterranean Sea back then, have included footage of the aerial engagement, filmed with their ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra Red) pod, in their 2017 OIR cruise video.

Here below you can see the relevant part of the cruise video, the one that shows the AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) hitting the Syrian Sukhoi (from two different angles – maybe because other Hornets filmed the scene) and then the Fitter crashing into the ground.