Tag Archives: Aggressors

See How USAF Aggressors Jam Civilian GPS Signals in Training at Nellis Air Force Base

GPS Jamming is a New Story from Red Flag 18-1, But We Videotaped It at Nellis Last Year.

Despite the Jan. 27, 2018 accident with a Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, the massive tactical air training exercise Red Flag 18-1 continues from Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. The training exercise extends throughout the sprawling 7,700 square mile Nellis Military Operating Area (MOA) ranges.

Aviation authority and journalist Tyler Rogoway broke the story of the U.S. Air Force jamming GPS signals on a large scale for training purposes during Red Flag 18-1 in an article for The War Zone last week. But earlier in 2017 we went inside Nellis AFB to get a firsthand demonstration of how easy and how quickly the U.S. Air Force can jam GPS signals for training purposes.

In our demonstration, members of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527th SAS) at Nellis AFB showed us how they can use off-the-shelf equipment to conduct tactical short-range jamming of the GPS signal on a local level. The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron was at Nellis AFB for the 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo. Our reporters got a firsthand look at GPS jamming on media day. In only a few seconds members of the 527th SAS used off-the-shelf equipment available to the public to jam local GPS reception. As you can see in the video, the signal bars on our test receiver, a typical consumer GPS, disappeared entirely as thought GPS simply didn’t exist anymore.

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron’s mission is not active combat jamming of GPS, but to provide these and other electronic warfare capabilities for training purposes in exercises like Red Flag 18-1. The unit is based at Schriever AFB in Colorado but is attached to the 57th Wing at Nellis. According to the U.S. Air Force, the 57th Wing, “is the most diverse wing in the Air Force and provides advanced, realistic and multi-domain training focused on ensuring dominance through air, space and cyberspace.”

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron personnel showed enthusiasm for their mission and reminded us that cyber and electronic warfare is the most dynamic and fastest growing battlespace in modern combat.

The unique insignia worn by members of the elite 527th Space Aggressor Squadron. Notice one version worn by the unit is in Russian. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

In an operational environment jamming GPS signals represents both a threat and an important capability. In addition to serving an important purpose in navigation on land, sea and in the air GPS also provides targeting capability for precision weapons along with many other tactical and strategic purposes.

For instance, among the various theories surrouding the capture of the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone by Iran in 2011, one mentioned a GPS hack. This is what The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti wrote back then:

Eventually there is an explanation for the mysterious capture of the U.S. stealth drone by Iran. In an exclusive interview to the Christian Science Monitor, an  Iranian engineer (on condition of anonymity) working to reverse engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel hacked while it was flying over the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) away from the Afghan border, says they were able to exploit a known vulnerability of the GPS.

In simple words, in a scenario that I had more or less described in my last post which described also the known threats to the drone’s Position, Navigation and Guidance system, the Iranain electronic warfare specialist disrupted the satellite link of the American robot and then reconfigured the drone’s GPS setting the coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the Sentinel thought it was its home base in Afghanistan.

They jammed the SATCOM link and then forced the drone into autopilot reconfiguring the waypoint of the lost-link procedure to make it land where they wanted.

Such techniques were tuned by studying previously downed smaller drone, like the 4 U.S. and 3 Israeli that could be exhibited in Iran in the next future.

Although we don’t know what really happened to the Sentinel drone during its clandestine mission (in the above article our own Cenciotti was skeptical about the version mentioned by the anonymous Iranian engineer), it’s pretty obvious that dominating the GPS “domain” is crucial to win. That’s why during Red Flag 18-1 the widespread jamming of GPS for training purposes enables warfighters to operate in an environment where electronic and cyber-attacks may disable GPS capability. This compels the players to develop new tactics for fighting “GPS blind” and to revisit existing capabilities perfected in the era prior to widespread use of GPS in a warfighting role.

The 527th SAS displayed press clippings about GPS jamming incidents around the world at Nellis AFB. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

Check Out This F-16C From Nellis Air Force Base’s Aggressor Squadron Wearing The Have Glass V Paint Scheme

To our knowledge, there are three new F-16Cs (including this one from the 64th AGRS) sporting the Have Glass V paint scheme.

The photos in this post (released by the Australian Department of Defence within a set of shots taken at Nellis Air Force Base where the Royal Australian Air Force has deployed with four EA-18G Growlers, one of those involved in a take off incident on Jan. 27) are particularly interesting as they show an F-16C at Nellis Air Force Base wearing a brand new Have Glass 5th generation paint scheme.

The aircraft, serial 86-0280, is an F-16C assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron, a jet previously painted with the Arctic and Desert color schemes. At this link you can find a shot of the aircraft in Arctic livery (but make sure to visit the rest of Bruce Smith’s Flickr gallery for other outstanding photographs of this as well as many other jets operating out of Nellis).

F-16C jets belonging to the 64th (and 18th) AGRS have been sporting different paint schemes for decades now. “Arctic”, “Blizzard“, “Splinter” and “Desert” are just a few of the “exotic” paint jobs used on the F-16s to make the Aggressor jets as similar as possible to the real threats and put the pilots in training against the Red Air in a similar situation to what they would see during an engagement with the opposing combat air forces. For this reason, such “themes” have become a distinguishing feature of U.S. Air Force Aggressors to make their fighter jets similar to a Russian 4th and 5th generation aircraft.

However, as the shots in this post seem to prove, even the Aggressors have started flying with F-16 painted with the Have Glass V: the “Have Glass 5th generation” is the evolution of the standard Have Glass program that saw all the F-16s receiving a two-tone grey color scheme made with a special radar-absorbing paint capable to reduce the aircraft Radar Cross Section. Indeed, all “Vipers” are covered with RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) made of microscopic metal grains that can degrade the radar signature of the aircraft. The Have Glass V is the latest version of the special paint.

An F-16C Aggressor from the United States Air Force prepares for another sortie from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. *** Local Caption *** The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed a contingent of approximately 340 personnel to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for Exercise Red Flag 18-1, taking place from 29 January to 16 February 2018.
Established in 1980 by the United States Air Force, Exercise Red Flag centres on the world’s most complex reconstruction of a modern battlespace and is recognised as one of the world’s premier air combat exercises. The exercise involves participants from the United States Navy as well as the United Kingdom.
For 2018, an AP-3C Orion, E-7A Wedgetail and a Control and Reporting Centre have been deployed on the complex, multi-nation exercise. Four EA-18G Growler aircraft from Number 6 Squadron have also been deployed for the first time on an international exercise, since being transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force in January 2017.
Training alongside allied nations is critical to the success of Air Force units on real world operations; helping develop further familiarity with foreign terminology, methods and platforms.

We don’t know yet why the F-16C AF 86-0280 was given the somehow standard HG V paint scheme (is it going to be handed over to another Squadron or are the Aggressors going to fly a few aircraft in standard color scheme?), still the Viper in the dark grey Have Glass livery looks pretty cool.

Our reader and friend Stephan de Bruijn informed us that two more 64th AGRS birds were spotted on Nov. 29, 2017, with the HG V livery: 91-0374 and 90-0740. You can find two shots from Stephan in the comment thread. Actually it’s not clear whether these Vipers belong to the Aggressors too: in fact, according to some sources these F-16s, are assigned to the Weapons School. According to Dennis Peteri, both 90-0740 and 91-0374 left OT/422nd TES for WA/16th WPS sporting HG V. 64th AGRS only operate Block25/32 aircraft while 374 and 740 are Block 42s. So, at the moment, the AF 86-0280 should be the very first HG V of the 64th AGRS.

If you have further details let us know.

Image credit: CPL David Gibbs / © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence

H/T Gordon Bradbury for the heads-up

New F-16C Aggressor Color Livery (Dubbed “BDU Splinter”) Unveiled at Eielson Air Force Base

F-16C Block 30 from 18th Aggressor Squadron Debuts in New Splinter-Euro/Southeast Asia Style Camo.

A photo shared on the Eielson Air Force Base official Facebook page early on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 showed a recently repainted F-16C Block 30 belonging to the 18th Aggressor Squadron with a new and unusual paint scheme.

The new paint scheme mimics colors seen in both the “European One” and older Southeast Asia camouflage schemes. There appear to be either four or three colors on the aircraft. Possibly either one or two shades of green, a tan shade and flat black. The aircraft is dubbed “BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) Splinter”, a type of camouflage used on combat trousers and jackets.

Colors for the new F-16 aggressor seem to be inspired by both the European One paint scheme and the older Vietnam-era Southeast Asian camouflage but with the new square-edged “splinter” pattern. (Photo: USAF/TheAviationist.com)

The pattern is interesting since it is not a rounded or feathered transition from color to color like the older Southeast Asia camouflage seen in the Vietnam era or the Cold War, but a splinter pattern seen on recent Russian aircraft. The Aggressors often mimic Russian adversaries in training with U.S. and other western aircraft.

The new paint scheme of this 18th Aggressor F-16 debuted in this group photo with the Air Force Academy ice hockey team during a visit to Alaska. (Image: USAF)

Airman Eric M. Fisher of the 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office wrote in August that, “Eielson houses more than 20 F-16s. These aircraft are used by the 18th Aggressor Squadron to provide critical combat training to pilots around the globe. Due to their goal of threat replication, the 18th AGRS aircraft are painted to match that of possible enemy fighter aircraft.”

Airman Fisher went on to say the 18th AGRS has been flying opposing forces (OPFOR) simulation for over 20 years. It is worth noting that, as with this new F-16 paint scheme, the color schemes on the Eielson aggressors have changed as actual threat color schemes have changed in the real world.

The newly painted aircraft was shown in photos with the U.S. Air Force Academy Hockey Team as they visited Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska to play the UAF Nanooks hockey team. Little was mentioned of the aircraft or its new paint scheme in the social media post.

The aircraft became famous thanks to a photo taken on Jul. 31, 2017 and showing the aircraft, serial 86-0295, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron with a brand new overall black livery. Even though it initially seemed that the black livery might have been inspired by a Chinese aircraft (the Shenyang J-31 Falcon Eagle or “FC-31 fifth Generation Multi-Purpose Medium Fighter”, China’s second stealth fighter jet it was almost immediately explained that the F-16 was a half-finished paint scheme, rushed into service to take part in Red Flag Alaska.

The F-16C in its previous, temporary, overall black color scheme. (USAF)

Hopefully more photos of this new paint scheme surface soon and we will see aircraft profile artists like Ugo Crisponi, Mads Bangso and Ryan Dorling among others making color profile prints of this new Alaska Aggressor.

Thank you to Pierpaolo Maglio for providing additional details about the BDU Splinter.

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Take A Look At This U.S. Air Force F-16C Aggressor In Brand New Black Color Scheme. Mimicking China’s J-31 Stealth Jet?

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron has been given a black color scheme. Inspired by the Chinese stealth jet or something else?

Update: According to Eielson AFB, the one sported by the aircraft is actually a half finished paint scheme. The aircraft will be given a splinter color scheme after RF-A.

The U.S. Air Force has just released some cool shots taken during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 17-3, underway at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

Among these, the most interesting one was taken on Jul. 31, 2017 and shows a U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft, 86-0295, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron: the aircraft, previously wearing the “arctic” Aggressors color scheme is now sporting a brand new overall black livery.

F-16C belonging to the 64th and 18th AGRS have been sporting different paint schemes for decades now. As reported last year, when the 64th AGRS unveiled a new “splinter” F-16 the purpose of these liveries is to make the Aggressor jets as similar as possible to the real threats and put the pilots in training against the Red Air in a similar situation to what they would see during an engagement with the opposing combat air forces.

“Exotic” paint jobs have become a distinguishing feature of U.S. Air Force Aggressors to make their fighter jets similar to a Russian 4th and 5th generation aircraft. However, the new, black livery might have been inspired by a Chinese aircraft: the Shenyang J-31 Falcon Eagle (or “FC-31 fifth Generation Multi-Purpose Medium Fighter”), China’s second stealth fighter jet.

Indeed, the first prototype of the aircraft, that performed its maiden flight on Oct 31, 2012, and made a public appearance on Nov. 12, 2014 at Zhuhai Airshow, was painted in a black color scheme somehow similar to the one recently applied to the F-16C of the 18th AGRS. This would probably be the first time the Aggressors give a Chinese-inspired color scheme to one of their aircraft.

The Chinese J-31 during its display at Zhuhai Air Show 2014.

Let us know what you think. Inspired by the J-31 or by something else?

H/T to our friennd @aircraftspots for the heads up! Top image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson.

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Red Flag 17-1 Combat Exercise Near Las Vegas: a Paradise for Aircraft Spotters.

Huge Variety of International Tactical and Support Aircraft Invade Nellis AFB for Realistic Exercise

The ramp at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada has been a paradise for aircraft spotters since the beginning of the Red Flag 17-1 large-scale training exercise last week.

The Red Flag exercises at Nellis are planned and executed by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center. The exercises simulate actual combat scenarios in regions around the world. A key component of the Red Flag training exercises are practice in integrating air assets from international air forces so they can accomplish a high degree of interoperability in an actual combat situation, wherever it may happen around the world.

Red Flag training scenarios frequently involve the delivery of live, full-scale air to ground weaponry on secure ranges in Nevada. The participants must “fight” their way into the target area, execute the planned strike, and egress the contested airspace.

While air-to-air engagements are fought using a variety of simulation technologies some air-to-ground exercises use live weapons such as bombs and air to ground missiles. At least one aircraft in videos emerged so far was carrying live anti-radiation air-to-ground missiles used for engaging surface-to-air missile (SAM) threats.

A maintainer assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing conducts preflight checks on an F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 24, 2017. The F-35A is one of two U.S. Air Force fifth generation multi-role fighter aircraft participating in 17-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

The list of aircraft at this Red Flag exercise, named “Red Flag 17-1” as the number “1” Red Flag of the year 20”17”, hence “17-1”, is truly remarkable: USAF B-1 Lancer heavy bombers, EC-130 Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, E-8 Joint STARs surveillance aircraft, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II and F-15 Eagle fighters from the USAF, KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft, E-7 aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force, Typhoon FGR4 aircraft from the RAF among others.

This is the first deployment to a Red Flag exercise for the U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II, these from Hill AFB, and the first large deployment to an exercise since the F-35 was declared combat ready in August 2016. As already explained in a previous post, teaming up with the Raptors, the Lightning IIs have so far achieved a striking 15:1 kill ratio with the Aggressors F-16s.

U.S. Air Force Colonel Dave Smith, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing, the F-35 wing deployed to Red Flag 17-1, told media, “Red Flag is hands-down the best training in the world to ensure our Airmen are fully mission ready. It’s as close to combat operations as you can get.”

There are four Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB each year with each one providing different combat simulation exercises as well as a unique opportunity for aviation enthusiasts to catch some incredible photos and videos of the aircraft launching and recovering at the airbase off Las Vegas.

Enjoy this cool video of the air ops at Nellis during a Red Flag.

 

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