Tag Archives: Active Electronically Scanned Array

U.S. Air Force RC-135s teaming up with Marine Corps EA-6Bs (and others..) to detect and suppress ISIS comms

In the skies over Iraq, USAF spyplanes, USMC and USN Electronic Attack aircraft work together to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate.

The image above shows a U.S. Air Force RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, disconnecting from a USAF KC-10 Extender tanker after receiving fuel near Iraq on Dec. 5, 2016.

Here below you can see a similar photograph of a U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft belonging to VMAQ-2 from MCAS Cherry Point, temporarily deployed to Incirilik Air Base, Turkey preparing for refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, on Nov. 29, 2016.

Although they have a different role and belong to different services both aircraft are often part of the same team, a team whose goal is to shut down Daesh communications.

A Marine EA-6B Prowler peels off after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. The 340th EARS extend the fight against Da'esh by delivering 60,000 pounds of fuel to USAF A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles and U.S. Marine EA-6B Prowlers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

A Marine EA-6B Prowler peels off after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. The 340th EARS extend the fight against Da’esh by delivering 60,000 pounds of fuel to USAF A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles and U.S. Marine EA-6B Prowlers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

Little details are available about the missions these HVAs (High Value Assets) carry out together in theater against the Islamic State even though we have been able to collect some interesting details about the way they team up to conduct their secretive tasks.

First of all, a major role is played by the RC-135 Rivet Joint intelligence gathering planes.

In fact, as already pointed out by War Is Boring journalist Joseph Trevithick, not only do the USAF Rivet Joints eavesdrop and pinpoint “enemy” radio signals, but they can also disseminate the details about these targets via tactical data-link to other aircraft, including the Prowlers, whose role is to jam those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone or using portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

Robert Hopkins, III, a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models in the 1980s and 1990s, and author of a book on the type, says that “RJ (Rivet Joint) can share the intelligence they collect with a wide variety of assets, both aerial and ground, to meet their operational requirements.”

Here are some relevant excerpts from his revised book Boeing KC-135: More Than a Tanker to be released by Crécy in February 2017, that explain how this ability to collect and share information with other aircraft has evolved during the years:

“Among the significant improvements included in the Baseline 7 jets (beginning with 62-4131 in late 2001) were derivatives of the Link 16 Joint Tactical Information Display System (JTIDS), including Tactical Digital Links (TDL), formerly Tactical Digital Information Links (TADIL). These provided narrowband communications with other tactical airborne assets as well as the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), emphasizing the Rivet Joint’s increasing conventional combat support role. […]

The impressive capabilities of the Rivet Joint in operations in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere found strong support among combat commands, and led to a broad range of planned enhancements. […]

Baseline 8 jets incorporated improved collection techniques, ‘user friendliness’, and system reliability, as well as automated and faster information dissemination capabilities. They were the first to be extensively ‘connected’ to other airborne and ground-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting assets. RC-135W 62-4126 was the first Baseline 8 Rivet Joint. It included the satellite-based Remote Extended Aircraft Position Enabling Reachback (REAPER—also noted as Narrowband Reachback, or NABRE) and Network Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) systems.

[…]

Baseline 8 is also able to ‘talk’ to the U-2S and the ground-based, tri-service Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) processing and dissemination architecture to connect directly with other ISR airplanes such as the Beechcraft RC-12 Guardrail, Boeing E-8 JointSTARs, and US and allied nation Boeing E-3 AWACS.

[…]

A single Rivet Joint, for example, might detect a signal of interest (SOI) but be unable to provide a precise location, especially as the RC-135 moves along its flight path. Using multiple, networked NCCT platforms, however, means that a Rivet Joint, a Guardrail, and a U-2S would all detect the same SOI, and, within seconds, triangulate its precise location and relay that to the CAOC and national targeting agencies.

[…]

Among the latest upgrades to the Rivet Joint fleet is the FAB-T, a ‘second-generation terminal’ system capable of passing low-rate data between air and ground assets. […] First tested in 2011 on NC-135W 61-2666, the FAB-T allowed the rivet joint to connect with a MILSTAR satellite and then transmit data and voice communication with a ground facility. Since then, the data transmission rate has increased, allowing a ‘more secure communication capability to deliver much higher quantities of actionable intelligence products into the hands of the warfighter.’”

A RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing prepares to move onto the runway before a mission Oct. 21, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The RC-135 Rivet Joint is a reconnaissance aircraft that supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene electronic warfare support, intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson/Released)

A RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing prepares to move onto the runway before a mission Oct. 21, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The RC-135 Rivet Joint is a reconnaissance aircraft that supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene electronic warfare support, intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson/Released)

Islamic State fighters rely heavily on commercial radios and cell phones; they use Internet and send emails from their mobile devices, and aircraft from the various services continuously work to intercept all these signals and, if needed, make such communication impossible (by disturbing the comms or attacking the cell towers).

And, sometimes, based on data collected and disseminated by Rivet Joints, “kinetic Electronic Attack platforms” are called in to target high value individuals, preventing them from dispatching orders to other militants. By jamming their cell phones with high-power signals or the old way: by dropping actual ordnance on them (a role that can be fullfilled not only by mission-purpose aircraft or an F-16CJ “Wild Weasel” but also by a more “conventional” bomber.)

As probably done last year by a VAQ-137 Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet (that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service), embarked on USS Theodore Roosevelt supporting OIR that sported the unequivocal High Value Individual cell phone-jamming kill mark.

By the way, VMAQ-2 “Playboys” are currently involved in a 6-month tour of duty started in October, when the unit replaced another Marine Corps squadron, the VMAQ-4 “Seahawks” (that were spotted at Lajes airfield, Portugal, showing some interesting mission markings and insignia on their way back to the U.S.)

 

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Video of live fire tests of the Russian T-50 stealth fighter’s 30 mm gun appears online

A new video showing the tests of the T-50 PAK FA’s 9-A1-4071K cannon has appeared on Youtube.

The Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA, Russia’s 5th generation radar-evading jet, has undertaken live testing of its 30 mm cannon.

Footage reportedly filmed at a range outside Moscow shows a test platform fire the 9-A1-4071K cannon, an upgraded version of the GSh-30-1 30 mm automatic cannon developed by the Instrument Design Bureau for High Precision Weapons in 2014.

Based on the data released so far, the gun (that complements a wide array of weapons that the aircraft will be able to carry), 50 kg in weight, can fire at a rate of 1,800 rounds per minute, “the best such performance for this type of weapon around.”

According to the state-run Sputnik news media outlet “another thing that makes the 9-A1-4071K so special is its autonomous water cooling system where the water inside the barrel jacket vaporizes as it heats up during operation. The 9-A1-4071K cannon can fire blast-fragmentation, incendiary and armor-piercing tracer rounds and is effective against even lightly armored ground, sea and aerial targets. The cannon can hit ground targets up to 1,800 meters away and aerial targets at a maximum distance of 1,200 meters. Flight tests of the 9A1-4071K modernized rapid-aircraft cannon were earlier conducted on the Sukhoi SU-27SM multirole jet fighter.”

The T-50 is a stealth equipped with a front, side and rear AESA radar, as well as L Band radars. It features TVC (Thrust Vectoring Control), a top speed exceeding Mach 2 and a supermaneuverability that makes the stealth plane able to perform, among the others, even the famous Cobra maneuver.

Expected to enter mass production next year, the Russian Defense Ministry plans to buy at least one squadron of T-50 aircraft in 2018.

Theoretically, exports should start in 2020: Sukhoi is working on T-50 variant (that will embed Indian hardware) for the Indian Air Force, even though the latter in 2014 complained in a report that was given wide publicity, that the stealth jet is too expensive, poorly engineered, equipped with inadequate radar.

And, above all, the Indians criticized the unreliable engines.

The Russians have countered that a new, more powerful engine, expected to replace the old AL-41F engine used by the Su-27 family, is under development.

The brand-new motors, along with improved sensors (and more reliable radar – this, as well, planned), will probably make the T-50 a dangerous enemy for both the F-22 and the F-35, preventing embarrassing episodes like those occurred at MAKS 2011.

Back in the 2011, when PAK-FA debuted, both T-50 prototypes had technical problems. The first one, “51” had structural breaks, while second one, “52” suffered a quite embarrassing flameout at the beginning of its MAKS 2011 performance and was forced to abort take off and display.

H/T to @aldana_jp for sending the video over to us.

This video lets you join F-22 pilots preparing for a night air strike on ISIS

Up close and personal with the Raptor pilots fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

Filmed at Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE, this clip shows F-22 pilots with the 90th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, preparing to launch at night for a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in the modernized U.S. Air Force Raptor multirole jets.

Each Raptor mission against Daesh usually involves multiple aerial refueling operations since the aircraft, to keep their stealthiness, do not carry external fuel tanks.

The Alaskan Raptors belong to the latest available Block and can drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs; they also embed a radar upgrade that enhanced the capabilities of the aircraft in the realm of the so-called “kinetic situational awareness”: although they drop very few bombs against ground targets, the 5th generation stealth planes exploit their advanced onboard sensors, such as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to gather details about the enemy targets that they share with other attack planes, such as the F-15E Strike Eagles.

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The most up-to-date F-22 Raptor jets are currently fighting Daesh

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.

Interestingly, along with the ability to carry “new” weapons, 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 the campaign 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.

 

U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth jets provide kinetic situational awareness over Syria

Although they were not conceived to play this kind of role, F-22 Raptors have emerged as some of the U.S.-led Coalition’s most reliable combat assets in supporting coalition planes during air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

At the beginning of July, U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets had flown only 204 sorties out of 44,000 launched by the U.S.-lead coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Little more than a month ago, the multirole stealth combat planes deployed to Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE had dropped 270 bombs on targets located in 60 of the 7,900 locations hit by the other aircraft supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

Even though the largest number of air strikes is carried out by other assets, it looks like the role played by the (once troubled) F-22 is pivotal to ensure the safety of the other aircraft involved in the air campaign: the Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” escorting 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.

“We are operating regularly in Iraq and Syria. The F-22’s advanced sensors and low-observable characteristics enable us to operate much closer to non-coalition surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft with little risk of detection,” said Lt. Col. J. (name withheld for security reasons) in a recent 380th Air Expeditionary Wing release. “We provide increased situational awareness for other coalition aircraft while simultaneously delivering precision air-to-ground weapons. This allows us to reduce the risk to our forces while mitigating the risk to civilian casualties, one of our highest priorities in this conflict. It is a true multirole aircraft.”

In simple words, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then they share the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. As happened when they facilitated the retaliatory air strikes conducted by the Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16s after the burning alive of the pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh captured on Dec. 24, 2014.

Needless to say, every now and then they can also attack their own targets using Precision Guided Munitions: two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) or 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs, “which have been successfully employed against key ISIL targets. [The SDB] is extremely accurate from very long distances and has the lowest collateral damage potential of any weapon in our inventory.”

Therefore, although this may not be what the F-22 was conceived for, the U.S.’s premier air superiority fighter is excelling in a new role: making other aircraft more survivable in contested airspaces like Syria and Iraq.

 Top image credit: U.S. Air Force