Tag Archives: Afghanistan

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.


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.



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.

Magma 13

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


This is how a Reaper drone is deployed to Afghanistan. In Kit Form.

Did you know RAF delivered its five Reaper UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) as if they were model kits?

The Royal Air Force has just deployed five more MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft that have joined the five Reapers already there and support ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) operations in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the drones are delivered as model kits and re-assembled at Kandahar airfield as the following images, released by the UK MoD.

Reaper model kit

Along with the images of the British have also released some figures about the air strikes against Taliban conducted by the RAF unmanned aircraft in theater with LGBs (Laser-Guided Bombs) and Hellfire missiles:

“In over 54,000 hours of operations using Reaper in Afghanistan, only 459 weapons have been fired, which is less than one weapon for every 120 hours of flying.”

Reaper model kit 3

And here’s the reassembled Reaper:

Reaper model kit 4

Image credit: Crown Copyright


What’s this Pod Carried by a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone in Afghanistan?

An interesting picture, shared by the U.S. Air Force, shows a Reaper UAS (Unmanned Air System) on the ground at Kandahar airbase, with two interesting pods.

The image in this post (that we’ve edited to highlight the detail of interest) was released by the U.S. Air Force.

Taken on Aug. 18, it shows MQ-9 Reapers with the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan.

Noteworthy, one of the Reaper drones (that are launched, recovered and maintained from Kandahar and remotely operated by pilots in bases located in the U.S.) carries two Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensors under each wing.

62nd ERS keeps mission going

These could be the latest version of the rarely seen before Gorgon Stare (formerly known as the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System – WAAS), a pod-based sensor package used to track people, vehicles, and objects in areas of +10 square kilometers.

The ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) pod is integrated in a networked imagery distribution system to provide hi-resolution, real-time full motion video of activities of interest.

Usually, a Gorgon Stare system is made of two pods, one carrying networking and communications equipment, the other with Visible/IR Camera Arrays and Image Processing module: interestingly, the MQ-9 shown in the picture carries two seemingly identical pods (with EO/IR turrets).

A new system or just the recently announced Gorgon Stare Increment 2?

Most probably, the second one, even if images released so far show different kind of pods.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


[Photo] Ukrainian Antonov An-124 cargo visits NAF El Centro, California

An An-124 recently visited at Naval Air Facility (NAF) El Centro to load British Chinooks for their return to the UK.

On Aug. 14, an Antonov 124 of the “Antonov Design Bureau” (Ukraine’s state-owned company currently known as Antonov State Company), visited NAF El Centro, in Southern California. The huge cargo, departed the following day and flew to RAF Brize Norton via Detroit.

The An-124 has become something of a regular visitor to El Centro, moving helicopters from a number of NATO forces (such as British, Danish, Dutch and German) to the local base where they train in “hot and high” conditions prior to deployments to Afghanistan.

Actually, the Ukrainian company’s An-124 aircraft have been used to transport helicopters all around the world.

El Centro’s ready access to large ranges with desert and mountainous terrain (Chocolate Mountains and Yuma, AZ range) make it an ideal location for cost effective pre-deployment training.  Aircraft can depart El Centro and be on range within a matter of minutes making helicopter training particularly efficient.

AN124 El Centro side view

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.