Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Two NASA’s WB-57F Jets Are About To Chase The Total Solar Eclipse. Here is How And Where.

NASA is about to launch two retrofitted WB-57F aircraft to follow the shadow of the moon. The last of a long series of interesting missions…

NASA still operates three WB-57Fs, configured for air sampling and the other for photography, radar and thermal recce. The first two, NASA926 and 928 have been flying research missions since the early ’60s, whereas NASA927 is a more recent addition to the fleet, having joined NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, in 2013.

Based at Ellington Field, Texas, they are often deployed to different bases, both at home and abroad; to undertake missions in support of scientific projects (focusing on hurricanes, radiation impact on clouds, atmospheric data gathering, tropical storm generation analysis, and so on).

For instance, on Aug. 21, 2017, the total solar eclipse that for most of the observers will last less than two and half minutes, for one team of NASA-funded scientists, will last over seven minutes. Indeed, the eclipse will be chased by two retrofitted WB-57F jet planes: NASA926 and NASA927.

According to NASA, Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and his team will use two of NASA’s WB-57F research jets to observe the eclipse from twin telescopes mounted on the noses of the planes in order to capture the clearest images of the Sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — to date and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury, revealing how temperature varies across the planet’s surface.

The two aircraft have filled a FPL to follow the route below:

The FPL of NASA 927 (the same filed by NASA 926): a 4h 30m trip across the U.S. (credit: FlightAware.com)

This is the route that will be followed by NASA 926 and NASA 927 to chase the total solar eclipse. (credit: FlightAware).

“Due to technological limitations, no one has yet directly seen nanoflares, but the high-resolution and high-speed images to be taken from the WB-57F jets might reveal their effects on the corona. The high-definition pictures, captured 30 times per second, will be analyzed for wave motion in the corona to see if waves move towards or away from the surface of the Sun, and with what strengths and sizes,” says an official NASA release.

“The two planes, launching from Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will observe the total eclipse for about three and a half minutes each as they fly over Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee. By flying high in the stratosphere, observations taken with onboard telescopes will avoid looking through the majority of Earth’s atmosphere, greatly improving image quality. At the planes’ cruising altitude of 50,000 feet, the sky is 20-30 times darker than as seen from the ground, and there is much less atmospheric turbulence, allowing fine structures and motions in the Sun’s corona to be visible.

Images of the Sun will primarily be captured at visible light wavelengths, specifically the green light given off by highly ionized iron, superheated by the corona. This light is best for showing the fine structures in the Sun’s outer atmosphere. These images are complementary to space-based telescopes, like NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which takes images primarily in ultraviolet light and does not have the capacity for the high-speed imagery that can be captured aboard the WB-57F.”

Scientific research aside, NASA’s Canberras are also involved in some “special operations” every now and then.

For instance, in 2007 there were speculations and theories about the type of mission flown by the WB-57 in war zones fueled by pictures of the aircraft operating from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan without the standard NASA logo and markings. Officially, the aircraft performed geophysical and remote sensing surveys as part of the U.S. aid to the Afghan reconstruction effort. The WB-57 collected  AVIRIS (Airborne Visible Infra Red Imaging Spectrometer) data that could be analyzed to provide information on mineral assemblages that could aid in resource and hazards assessments.

More recently, the WB-57s have also carried BACN – Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payloads in Afghanistan, often testing fnew sensors and antennas used by the BACN to relay comms between command and control centers and ground troops located within valleys and ridges in the Afghan mountains during specific testing campaigns from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Surely, with up to 6,000-lb payload carried and a pallet system under the main fuselage area, this aircraft can fulfil a wide variety of special data gathering missions,.

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U.S. Army Rangers Kill ISIS-K Leader in Combined Air/Ground Raid in Afghanistan.

Army Confirms U.S. Raid in Afghanistan Following MOAB Strike Killed ISIS-K Leader.

The U.S. military confirmed in a statement on May 7 that the ISIS-K leader in Afghanistan, Sheikh Abdul Hasib, was killed by a combined air/ground operation last month.

The raid included airstrikes by U.S. F-16s, AC-130s, drones and AH-64 Apache helicopters along with elite Army Rangers from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment of Fort Benning, Georgia. The combined air/ground raid followed the April 13 airstrike by a U.S. Special Operations C-130 using the first massive eleven-ton GBU-43B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst) ever dropped in combat.

Two Army Rangers, Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, 22 years old from Normal, Illinois, of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, 23 years old from Kettering, Ohio, of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were killed in action during the raid. A statement issued by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan reads: “USFOR-A is investigating the possibility that the two Rangers were accidentally killed by friendly fire during the more than three-hour fight.” Both of the Army Rangers killed were on their third deployment to Afghanistan.

Army Rangers Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas were killed in the raid. (US Army)

The Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, released a statement saying the raid by Army Rangers was “another important step in our relentless campaign to defeat ISIS-K in 2017.” General Nicholson also wrote, “This is the second ISIS-K emir we have killed in nine months, along with dozens of their leaders and hundreds of their fighters,” Nicholson said. “For more than two years, ISIS-K has waged a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence against the Afghan people, especially those in southern Nangarhar.” (Editor’s Note: “ISIS-K” is the designation for “ISIS-Khorasan”, the ISIS cell in the region.)

Photo (released on ISIL channel on January 23) from ISIL patrol in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan prior to the U.S. raid.

Efforts to neutralize ISIS-K leader Sheikh Abdul Hasib were accelerated following a deadly terrorist raid directed by Hasib earlier this year on March 8. The ISIS-K terrorists dressed in hospital uniforms to infiltrate the Sardar Mohammed Daud Khan hospital in Afghanistan after one of their suicide bombers initiated the attack by blowing himself up at the south gate of the facility. Over 30 people were killed in the hospital following the six-hour attack by the terrorists.

The Rangers from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Regiment were spearheading a combined air/ground operation in cooperation with Afghan forces that included armed surveillance RPV’s, U.S. Air Force F-16s and an Air Force AC-130 gunship along with U.S. Army AH-64 Apache gunship helicopters. Over 50 Army Rangers participated in the raid that lasted “several hours” and began at approximately 22:30 local time under cover of darkness. The Rangers were inserted into the area by helicopter.

File photo of aerial gunner Airman 1st Class Sean reloads 40mm rounds into an auto-cannon aboard an AC-130U Spooky gunship during exercise Teak Knife 12-3 above Pilsung Range, Republic of Korea, Sept. 12, 2012. The exercise is part of a continuous exercise program between U.S. and ROK forces to help strengthen and enhance the readiness of Republic of Korea and U.S. forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Craig Cisek)

Army Ranger teams include members trained to coordinate airstrikes in conjunction with their ground operations. However, de-conflicting airstrikes in close proximity to enemy troops in the dark and in mountainous terrain, and airstrikes within 1000 meters usually called “danger close”, is inherently dangerous.

Because of the possibility of a formal investigation into the deaths of Sgt. Rogers and Sgt. Thomas no details have been released about the specific aircraft or units that conducted the airstrikes supporting the Ranger raid that neutralized Abdul Hasib.

Top image: file photo of an F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Aug. 12, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Krystal Ardrey /Released)

 

U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Has Just Dropped Largest U.S. Conventional Bomb on ISIS Cave Complex in Afghanistan

First Ever Operational Use of the GBU-43B MOAB Suggests Target Was of Strategic Value.

A U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Combat Talon II has dropped the first operational GBU-43B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst) on a cave complex target in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated members of the so-called Islamic State were using the cave complex. Both personnel and equipment were targeted in the strike that occurred at approximately 1800 hr.s local.

The massive, 11-ton, parachute deployed GBU-43B is the largest conventional air dropped weapon ever employed by the U.S. military. The “MOAB” produces shock, overpressure and blast effects equal to tactical nuclear weapons without residual radioactive fallout or the political ramifications associated with nuclear weapons.

The GBU-43B MOAB is deployed from a specially adapted MC-130 Combat Talon II using a system of rollers and a deployment sled. The bomb is attached to the deployment sled then pulled from the rear cargo ramp using a drogue parachute. Once pulled out the back cargo door of the MC-130 the sled falls away from the 30-foot long bomb. The bomb uses guidance wings and a system of stabilizers to maintain consistent ballistic flight trajectory and control its descent rate for more precise guidance. The MOAB uses a satellite guidance system along with internal gyros. GPS target coordinates are initially slaved from the launch aircraft then programmed into the weapon prior to release in close proximity to the target. Once released at medium to high altitude depending on target stand-off requirements the weapon uses its internal GPS for its terminal guidance to the target.

The GBU-43B is primarily intended to produce an “overpressure” or localized barometric shock wave effect to neutralize its target. The 9,500-kilogram bomb uses 18,700 pounds of H6 explosive, a combination of RDX explosive made of cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, conventional TNT explosive used in commercial dynamite and aluminum powder. The high-energy H6 explosive is made in Australia according to sources and is also used in concussive weapons such as mines and depth charges to produce a similar overpressure effect.

The shock wave generated by the massive release of energy from the explosion is transmitted through the air and into solid objects such as reinforced bunkers and cave complexes. This often results in their collapse. U.S. military officials also note a significant psychological impact to the employment of the GBU-43B MOAB because of its massive blast and the ability to produce a large mushroom-shaped cloud in certain atmospheric and terrain environments mimicking the appearance of a nuclear strike. There is no radioactive component to the GBU-43B.

According to several sources this was likely the only GBU-43B in the operational theater. Unless production has resumed, there are likely only 15 (14 now) operational GBU-43B MOAB weapons in U.S. inventory. The use of the weapon suggests that the target attacked was of strategic importance to the conflict in the region. Because of the special equipment and planning required to employ the GBU-43B this operation likely took a number of days minimally to plan prior to execution. No bomb damage assessment information has been released about the strike yet.

The MOAB should not be mistaken with the MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) bunker buster bomb.

Italian Tornado jets help police forces finding a marijuana plantation during anti-drug mission

Italian Tornado combat planes took part in an anti-drug mission aimed at finding a marijuana plantation not far from their homebase.

About 250 kg of cannabis were seized in northern Italy after a plantation was discovered at Quinzano, near Brescia.

Interestingly, the operation was supported by the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS aircraft of the 6° Stormo (Wing) based at Ghedi, near Brescia. The ItAF jets were in fact tasked with reconnaissance runs aimed at discovering the farm and gathering imagery that was then used by the Carabinieri (Military Police) to arrest two people involved with the plantation.

It is not the first time Italian attack planes are requested by other national agencies to perform reconnaissance missions: for instance, in the aftermath of the 6.0 earthquake that hit central Italy on Aug. 24 causing about 300 deaths, ItAF Tornados supported the relief operations collecting imagery used to map the damages to Amatrice and the nearby villages.

Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF

Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF

The Tornados have already been involved in sort-of anti-drug missions abroad: from November 2008 to December 2009, the Italian jets were deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, from where they supported ISAF with reconnaissance missions: many of these were tasked with the aim of discovering opium poppy farms and depots across a country that produces more than 90% of heroin worldwide.

In “recce” role at home and in theater, the Italian aircraft carry a Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod: the Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes.

The Reccelite reconnaissance pod is used to broadcast live video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical receivers in a range of about 100 miles.

The Tornados have used the pod in combat not only in Afghanistan, but also in Libya and more recently in Kuwait, where the aircraft were deployed to support, with ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions, the air war against ISIS.

By the way, the pod can also be carried by the AMX ACOL, the light tactical jet that has performed close air support/air interdiction and ISR missions in support of ISAF from 2009 to 2014, and have recently replaced the Tornados in Kuwait.

tornado-ghedi-trapani-2011

Training missions in reconnaissance role see the aircraft overflying a series of targets taking photographs that are then analysed by image interpreters: during the above mentioned mission, one of the targets was a real one, a suspected cannabis farm.

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While its aircraft can be tracked online, the U.S. Air Force only worries about Tweets….

Bad OPSEC (Operations Security) exposed by Air War on ISIS?

“Loose Tweets Destroy Fleets” is the slogan (based on the U.S. Navy’s WWII slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships”) that the U.S. Air Force Central Command used a couple of weeks ago for an article aimed at raising airmen awareness about the risk of sharing sensitive information on social media.

Indeed, the AFCENT article speaks directly to the threat posed by Islamic State supporters who, according to Stripes, on at least two occasions have acquired and posted online personal data of military personnel, urging sympathizers, “lone wolves,” to attack Americans in the States and overseas in retaliation for the air strikes.

The article highlights the importance of proper OPSEC to keep sensitive information away from the enemy and to prevent leakage of information that could put missions, resources and members at risk,  “and be detrimental to national strategic and foreign policies.”

Interestingly, the article only focuses on the smart use of social media. Ok, however, there are other possible OPSEC violations that the U.S. Air Force (as well as many other air arms currently supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria, or Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan) should be concerned of.

In October 2014 we highlighted the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions after 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 circles over the Ghazni Province.

The only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations.

Although such risk was already exposed during opening stages of the Libya Air War, when some of the 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 websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations making the aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection.

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USAF C-146A Wolfhound of the 524th Special Operations Squadron

During the last few months many readers have sent us screenshots they took on FR24.com or PF.net (that only collect ADS-B broadcast by aircraft in the clear) showing military planes belonging to different air forces over Iraq or Afghanistan: mainly tankers and some special operations planes.

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Canadian tanker

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. Maybe they don’t consider their tankers’ racetrack position or the area of operations of an MC-12 ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft a sensitive information…

A330 over Iraq

RAF A330 tanker over Iraq

Image credit: screenshots from Flightradar24.com