After the first tour of duty in February 2016 the Tu-214R has returned to Latakia. To spy on Daesh (and also on the U.S. F-22s?)
The Tu-214R is the most modern Russian ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft.
Equipped with sensors to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions as well as with all-weather radar systems and electro-optical sensors that produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground the special mission aircraft, the aircraft can fly multiple intelligence gathering missions: it can intercept and analyse signals emitted by targeted systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) while collecting imagery that can be used to identify and pinpoint the enemy forces, even if these are camouflaged or hidden.
Built by KAPO (Kazan Aircraft Production Association) and flown from the company’s airfield in Kazan, the Tu-214R registered RA-64514, serial number 42305014, the second of the two examples of this kind of aircraft built under contract with Russia’s Ministry of Defense (the other being serialled RA-64511), deployed to Latakia airbase in Syria, between Feb. 15 and 29, 2016.
Interestingly, RA-64514 has not finished with Syria yet: on Jul. 29, the aircraft flew from Moscow to Syria, where it landed at 3.23AM LT, as the Flightradar24.com ADS-B tracking show.
Tu-214R route. Screenshot from Flightradar24.com
The aircraft, that features the same types of external bulges of other very well-known intelligence gathering planes, as the U.S. RC-135 or the Israeli B-707 with the Phalcon system, along with minor differences with the first operative Tu-214R, RA-64511, serial number 42305011, will probably spy on Daesh while testing some of its onboard sensor packages: the aircraft is believed to be still under development and the Syrian battlefield has already been used as a real testbed for new weapons systems by the Russian Aerospace Forces since Moscow started the air war in Syria back in October 2015.
According to Matisek, these anti-aircraft systems could be “sniffing” the emissions of the F-22s and other NATO aircraft could be used to “[improve] tracking algorithms, air defense capabilities, and [enhance] the understanding of coalition weapons that are engaging in close air support and precision air strikes.”
Anyway, Syria aside, the spyplane has been pretty active in Europe as well: on Jul. 5, the aircraft flew an interesting mission along the borders of Finland, Estonia and Latvia, similarly to what happened on Jun. 18, 2015, when the aircraft flew from Kazan to Crimea and back, closely following the border between Russia and Ukraine (a mission profile that caused some concern back then).
As already explained, this kind of aircraft usually loiters/circles in a friendly or uncontested airspace at high altitude and at safe distance (but within range of the onboard sensors) from the target(s) of interest or along the border of the enemy country.
The Raptors of the latest Block can drop GBU-39 small diameter bombs on ISIS targets.
The Raptors deployed to Al Dhafra airbase, UAE, are the most up-to-date F-22As flown by the U.S. Air Force.
Assigned to the 90th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the modernized Raptors made their debut in Operation Inherent Resolve, the air war on the Islamic State, in April, bringing expanded capabilities in the fight against Daesh.
“What our squadron is bringing to the fight now versus some of the previous squadrons, is we have the most up to date software and hardware loads that an F-22 can carry,” said Lt. Col. David, 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander in a recent Air Force release. “There is a huge advancement in the capabilities of the avionics, the radar system, the sensors and certain electronic features on board the aircraft.”
Although they are rarely requested to attack ground targets, the Alaskan Raptors can now drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs while previously they were limited to carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bay: with the latest upgrade they can be tasked for missions which require greater precision.
An initial air-to-surface capability, including that of dropping the GBU-39 (a 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range, whose integration testing started in 2007) had been introduced with the software increment 3.1 back in 2012.
Even though the odds of using an advanced air-to-air missiles over Syria are pretty low, another important addition to the F-22’s payload is the latest generation AIM-9X (already integrated in most of US combat planes since 2003): on Mar. 1, 2016 the 90th Fighter Squadron (FS) officially became the first combat-operational Raptor unit to equip an F-22 with the AIM-9X Sidewinder.
Noteworthy, the AIM-9X will not be coupled to a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) as the F-22 is not equipped with such kind of helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery (the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts) but the Raptor will probably benefit of the AIM-9X Block II, that is expected to feature a Lock-on After Launch capability with a datalink, for Helmetless High Off-Boresight (HHOBS): the air-to-air missile will be launched first and then directed to its target afterwards even though it is behind the launching aircraft.
One day after the U.S. Navy launched the first strikes from the Mediterranean a Russian Tu-142, an aircraft developed for reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare, was spotted over Aleppo, Syria.
The following video, allegedly filmed on Jun. 5, 2016, at Aleppo, Syria clearly shows a Russian Bear flying overhead.
Based on the barely visible search radar underneath the fuselage and the characteristic tail with a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) boom, the aircraft seems to be a Tu-142M “Bear F”, a reconnaissance and ASW variant derived from the iconic Tu-95 Bear bomber.
Whilst the “standard” Tu-95s have already been used to carry out air strikes against Syrian ground targets beginning in November last year, the one spotted over Aleppo would be (if confirmed) the first Tu-142 to take part in the air war over Syria.
As said the Tu-142 was developed as a maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. However, it is believed to be able to carry different sensor packages and some believe the Bear F could be used as an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform, to pinpoint targets for tactical strike aircraft.
Five years later, little has changed and transponders remain turned on during real operations making the aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection, thus breaking OPSEC and exposing aerial refueling tracks or clandestine operations, like those being flown on a daily basis in North Africa, Afghanistan, or Iraq.
For instance, last night as many as three Beech 300 Super King Air aircraft could be tracked while they circled over Mosul while hunting for Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions.
These days, along with the tankers, several quasi-civilian U.S. Army-operated aircraft, including the Pilatus PC-12/45 N56EZ, the Super King Air 300 N80BZ and N166BA and several MC-12W Liberty (the military variant of the B350 King Air).
Like the one, registered N6351V that crash landed near Erbil, Iraq on Mar. 5. In that case, the mishap exposed the fact that the Liberty (just like many other special mission aircraft operating in the same area) sported a non-standard white color scheme to disguise itself as a light transport plane.
But in spite of its general aviation appearance the aircraft was actually an MC-12W EMARSS (Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System) variant used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), COMINT (Communication Intelligence), direction finding as well as Full Motion Video broadcasting to the tactical commanders on the ground, for day and night target detection, location, classification and tracking, as well as counter-IED operations.
All these modified aircraft are equipped with EO/IR (electro-optic/infra-red) sensors, aerial precision geolocation system, line-of-sight tactical and beyond line-of-sight communications suites, Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) workstations, and a self-protection suite: much more than a normal general aviation plane….
Another frequent visitors of the skies over Iraq is also a Bombardier Global 6000. According to some ADS-B experts it may be a RAF Sentinel R1, a quite advanced ISR platform that has been extensively used in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, or an E-11A, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accommodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.
Whatever it is, needless to say, it can be tracked online on Flightradar24.com.
H/T to @CivilMilAir, Guglielmo Guglielmi, Guido Olimpio, Avi Scharf and Greg Anderson for contributing to this post. Top image credit: FR24.com via Greg Anderson. Image credit: Rudaw.