Category Archives: War on ISIS

U.S. B-52 bombers have dropped 3,419 weapons on Daesh targets since April 2016.

The venerable B-52 strategic bombers have been quite busy fighting ISIL in the last months.

Six B-52 Stratofortress bombers are deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIL in Syria and Iraq since April 2016.

The aircraft have replaced the B-1s, that returned stateside for upgrades and are expected to perform a new tour of duty in the Middle East by the end of 2017.

The Buffs launched their first air strike against ISIS on Apr. 18 (targeting a Daesh weapons storage facility in Qayyarah, Iraq).

Since then, the B-52s have carried out the same kind of missions the B-1s flew in theater before they were relieved by the Buffs: mainly Close Air Support and Air Interdiction delivering a wide variety of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): as of Feb. 20, 2017, the strategic bombers have carried out 729 sorties, dropping 3,419 weapons on Daesh targets in Iraq.

Based on the images released by the flying branch so far, the 6o years old aircraft have flown with the underwing pylons loaded with two types of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions): the 500-lb laser-guided GBU-54s and the 2,000-lb GPS-guided GBU-31V3 “bunker busters” onto the Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam pylons.

A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress refuels from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Feb. 15, 2017. The 340th EARS extended the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists by delivering fuel to U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and a B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

One of the most common loadout includes 3x GBU-31s and 8x GBU-54s along with PGMs carried inside the bomb bay of the B-52H Stratofortress. With the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade the Buffs can carry up to 16 external laser JDAMs (8 per pylon) as well as 8 internal J-series weapons mounted on a conventional rotary launcher.

Such “mixed” PGM configuration provide the aircraft the ability to deliver “kinetic” attacks engaging both stationary and moving ground targets with reduced collateral damage (using the GBU-54s, that combines 500-lb Mk-82 warhead and the precision strike capability delivered by its dual Laser/GPS mode guidance system) as well as concrete shelters and hardened targets by means of the GBU-31s that use the BLU-109 forged steel penetrator warhead.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the B-52 will be constantly upgraded so that it will be able to internally carry eight joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, as well as a variety of miniature air-launched decoys. It will also have the option of carrying up to 12 extended-range JASSM-ERs on the external pylons for a total capacity of 20 of these advanced, stealthy cruise missiles.

Until the venerable B-52 is replaced by the recently announced B-21 Raider, the B-52 is projected to continue operations until at least 2040 thanks to a series of constant upgrades that will facilitate the Stratofortress flying into is 90th year.

The current “H” model is indeed much different from the early B-52 that flew for the first time in 1952. It currently features multi-function digital display screens, computer network servers and real-time communication uplinks with Internet access.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ben, left, and Capt. Justin, right, 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron pilots, takeoff to execute air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Feb. 13, 2017. The B-52 Stratofortress enables vital kinetic capability for the U.S. Air Force and is actively engaged in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

 

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Analysis: Russian Air Strike in Syria Results in Turkish Casualties

A Russian Tactical Air Strike in Al-Bab, Syria Kills Three Turkish Soldiers: What May Have Gone Wrong?

Wire services report that a Russian tactical air strike in Al-Bab, Syria, 40 kilometers northeast of Aleppo, has resulted in a “fratricide” (“friendly fire”) incident that took the lives of three Turkish ground troops and wounded another eleven personnel on the ground.

It is inherently dangerous for ground troops to operate in close proximity to airstrike targets. Minor miscalculations in aircraft weapon release point, malfunction of weapon release equipment on the aircraft, weather conditions such as wind and poor visibility, guidance malfunctions on precision guided weapons and problems with communications and coordination between ground troops and attack aircraft can all contribute to incidents of fratricide from air strikes.

Google Earth screengrab of the target area.

During the intense ground battles that have characterized much of the insurgent war in Syria troops have often been in close contact in urban areas. The overhead cover of buildings, the narrow streets and nearly identical appearance of many buildings in urban areas make accurate targeting of air strikes increasingly difficult on the urban battlefield.

Russia has most frequently employed non-precision guided weapons in tactical strikes in Syria. If this is the case in today’s Al-Bab incident it may have been a contributing factor.

While technical details of the strike were not released media photos from Khmeimim Air Base (also called Hmeimim Air Base) frequently show the Russian Su-25 Frogfoot used in a similar role as the U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II for ground attack and close air support. Although unconfirmed, it may have been an Su-25 that launched today’s mistaken strike.

Su-25 pilot at Latakia airbase (Ru MoD via RT)

One factor that may have contributed to the incident is possible communication problems between Turkish ground forces and Russian close air support assets. U.S. forces traditionally employ specially trained and equipped personnel called “Forward Air Controllers” or “Tactical Air Control Parties” (TACPs) to coordinate air strikes in support of ground troops. It is possible the Russians may have assigned their own personnel, in some cases attack pilots with airstrike experience in the region, to help with targeting and coordination. But if there were no Russian air strike coordinators on the ground with Turkish troops, this could have been a contributing factor.

Russia’s precision-guided weapons have traditionally been larger munitions, while smaller bombs such as the 100kg and 250kg have not been guided. This is contrary to the U.S. development of small precision-guided weapons like the recent GBU-53/B small diameter bomb, a GPS/INS guided 250lb (approx. 113kg) bomb that has been employed by the F-22 in strikes in Syria. Russian precision guided munitions appear to be larger than 500kg including the FAB-500 high-explosive bomb and the “bunker busting” AB-500 bomb used on reinforced concrete targets.

Russian guided weapons relying on satellite targeting may be inherently less accurate than their U.S. counterparts since they update targeting and guidance data from the GLONASS GPS satellite constellation. According to Russia Insider the GLONASS satellite constellation “is fractionally less accurate in low latitudes than [western] GPS”. This suggests the Russian systems may be optimized for striking targets in northern areas.

Analyst for the Japan Times, Robert Burns, wrote, “The skies over Syria are increasingly crowded — and increasingly dangerous. The air forces of multiple countries are on the attack, often at cross-purposes in Syria’s civil war, sometimes without coordination. And now, it seems, they are at risk of unintended conflict.”

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter expressed early concern over a year ago about the possibility of “inadvertent incidents and lack of communication” with Russian aircrews. Part of then-Secretary Ash’s concern stemmed from a relative lack of sophistication with Russian communications systems and their use of non-precision, unguided air delivered weapons.

Russian-Turkish cooperation in the Syrian campaign has been improving prior to this incident from a low point on Nov. 24, 2015 when Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian SU-24 over the Syrian border.

 

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Gigantic U.S. Global Hawk drone could be tracked online while flying 21-hour mission over Libya

We can’t say whether it happened by accident or on purpose, but a U.S. unmanned spy aircraft broadcast its position for everyone to see while flying a long mission over northern Libya.

It’s not a secret that U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UASs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella, Italy, from Beale Air Force Base, California, have been flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM theater mission tasking since 2011.

The Global Hawks of the flying branch had their baptism of fire on Mar. 1, 2011, and were the first to fly over Libya to perform high altitude Battle Damage Assessment sorties on targets located in regions with  a residual SAM (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and MANPADS threat after Operation Odyssey Dawn was launched on Mar. 19, 2011.

From their deployment bases in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and from Al Dhafra, UAE, the HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) drones are regularly tasked with intelligence gathering missions over North Africa, East Europe and Middle East: in March 2015, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged the involvement of the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft in the air war on ISIS not only as an IMINT (Imagery Intelligence) platform but also as Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) platform, that replaces the imagery sensor package normally installed in the aircraft, to support ground ops by relaying communications between people and aircraft as well as enabling airstrikes on the Islamic State militants.

Like all the other spyplanes, during their (long) sorties, these strategic ISR drones typically tend to keep a low-profile: they operate in “due regard” with transponder off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts, much like a VFR flight plan without flight following. For this reason it should not be possible to detect RQ-4s on clandestine missions using “simple” commercial receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange.

But Global Hawks could be tracked online over Ukraine beginning on October 2016 and, for the very fist time, while conducting a 21-hour mission over northwestern Libya on Feb. 4, 2017.

Indeed, yesterday an RQ-4 could be tracked on FR24.com taking off from Sigonella airbase around 1.30AM UTC, climb to 46,000 feet over the sea then head towards Libya where it circled for several hours.

Tracking while heading southbound (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Flying over northwestern Libya (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Skirting Tripoli southeast bound (screenshot from FR 24.com)

RTB to Sigonella (screenshot from FR
24.com)

Eventually the UAS returned to Sigonella in the late evening landing after 22.30 UTC, some 21 hours after take off.

By the way, on the very same day there was another U.S. RQ-4 drone tracking again over Ukraine….

The reason why the strategic drone was visible on the Internet for everyone to see (including the bad guys) remains a mystery. Just another case of inaccurate use of ADS-B transponder?

We have documented OPSEC failures exposed by online flight tracking, reporting about special operations planes clearly tracking over or near “danger zones” for nearly a decade.

We have informed the U.S. Air Force and other air forces that their planes could be tracked online, live, several times, but our Tweets (and those of our Tweeps who retweeted us) or emails have not had any effect as little has changed even though this author has received several emails from USAF pilots and aircrew members who wanted to say thank you for raising the issue.

Sometimes the reason for making an aircraft visible on FR24 can be deterrence: they purposely broadcast their position to let “the others” know a spyplane hunting terrorists is there. Was this the case? Hard to say.

H/T to the always alert @CivMilAir for the heads-up!

 

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Watch RAF Typhoons fly close to Russian aircraft carrier group sailing past the UK

RAF Typhoons flew near Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier sailing through the English Channel on the way home after taking part in the Syria air war. Just a “useless” show of force?

A British warship, Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans, along with 3 RAF Typhoons have shadowed the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and its battle group as they passed by the UK on Jan. 24.

The Russian carrier and her battle group (the Pyotr Velikiy, a nuclear-powered Kirov-class battlecruiser and a salvage tug) are returning home after completing their first combat deployment to the eastern Mediterranean to take part in the air war in Syria, a cruise that was plagued by two crashes (a MiG-29K and a Su-33).

The three Eurofighters, two single-seaters and a two-seater (along with a photo-ship, perhaps another Typhoon) flew near the Admiral Kuznetsov in what was just a show of force: the British multirole aircraft have no real anti-ship capability nor carried any armament.

Based on the photographs, only one Typhoon FGR4 ZJ927 had at least one (dummy) ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) on the outer port pylon.

Here’s an interesting clip filmed by the RAF jets during their flying activity in the vicinity of the Russian carrier.

Image credit: Crown Copyright

Russia’s MoD claimed the British performed a useless escort. Here’s Russian Defence Ministry comment  on the statement of the British Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon concerning the escort of the Russian carrier group by the British ships off the coast of Great Britain:

We have paid attention to the statement of the British Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon concerning the Russian carrier group which is passing the English Channel on its way home after combat task performance.

The goal of such statements and show concerning the escort of the Russian ships is to draw the attention of the British taxpayers away from the real state of affairs in the British Navy.

First, the Russian combat ships do not need escort services; they know the fairway and the course.

Second, Mr. Fallon is recommended paying more attention to the British fleet all the more there is every reason for it according to the same British press.

The Russian MoD also highlighted that the British newspaper Sunday Times reported about a failed launch of a ballistic missile from submarines of the British Navy recently.

According to a Royal Navy spokesperson “Remaining at a respectful distance, but keeping the Russian warships clearly visible, Royal Navy sailors keep watch on every movement through their binoculars and use state-of-the-art radars to track the course and speed of the ships as they pass close to the UK.”

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale says Typhoons may have used their sensors to try to detect the Russian’s air defence systems but the Eurofighter ESM (Electronic Support Measures) capabilities are quite limited if compared to other specialized aircraft (including the RAF E-3D or the Sentinel R1, whose presence in the same “surveillance operation” can’t be ruled out) that could gather much more significant data (if any, considered that the Russian aircraft carrier has been closely monitored while operating in the Med Sea with all its systems turned on….) from (safe) distance.

Image credit: Crown Copyright

 

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Six Russian Air Force Tu-22 bombers Fly Long Range Strike Against ISIS From Russia

Tu-22 Bombers Fly From Russia with Syrian-Based Fighter Escort to Hit ISIS Terrorist Targets in Syria (with dumb bombs).

Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-22M3 (NATO reporting name “Backfire C”) heavy bombers flying directly from Mozdok, Russia, pounded ISIS targets near Deir ez-Zor, Syria earlier today, Jan. 24.

The precision strategic long-range strike crossed Iranian and Iraqi airspace and, according to the Russian MoD, the targets (terrorist group’s command centers, weapon stockpiles and armored vehicles) were completely destroyed.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported that the six bombers were supported by a fighter escort (four Su-30SMs) launched from the Russian base at Khmeimim (Hmeimim Air Base) in western Syria.

The primary bomber aircraft on the strike are the latest version of the TU-22 “Backfire” series bombers. Production of the aircraft ended in 1993 but updates to targeting and avionics have likely continued.

Based on an examination of the BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment) and targeting strike video, it would appear that the weapons employed were, as usual, unguided “dumb” bombs released under precision sighting from the Russian bombers. The weapons appear to be one of the Russian FAB series unguided bombs, either the FAB-250 (500 lb) bombs or the larger FAB-500 (1,000 lb) bombs.

Unguided bombs employed using precision strike technology from the bombers themselves have the advantage of not requiring time-consuming targeting data often required by laser designated, GPS-guided or optically guided air-delivered weapons. As a result the Russian forces can prosecute targets more quickly since fewer targeting assets in the region are required.

No intelligence was released indicating how targeting was achieved for the airstrikes.

The Tu-22M3 is internally equipped with the Leninets PNA-D precision ground attack radar for targeting and the SMKRITS RORSAT Targeting Datalink Receiver (Molniya satcom) for remote target designation. The aircraft is also equipped with an OPB-15 remote optical bombsight. The strike video may have been shot using the aircraft’s onboard AFA-15 strike camera.

The strikes appeared to have been conducted from medium to high altitude based on the videos.

In 2010, the Russian Air Force operated 93 of the Tu-22 bombers in several versions while Russian Naval Aviation flew 58 Tu-22’s according to public sources.

Although Russia did not officially name the units involved it is most likely the raids were flown by aircraft from the 52nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment at Shaykovka and/or the 840th Heavy Bomber Regiment at Soltsy-2 in Novgorod Oblast, Russia.

This follows a similar raid on strategic targets in Syria flown earlier this week on Saturday.

Image credit: RT and ausairpower.net