Tag Archives: AGM-114 Hellfire

Don’t Fear the Reaper: A Rare Look inside Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operations at Holloman Air Force Base

We Went Inside USAF MQ-9 Reaper Training and Operations at Holloman AFB.

We never heard it. Out of the corner of my eye in a cloudless, bright blue New Mexico desert sky I saw the glint of a reflection over our bus. I glanced outside again. Nothing. No sound. Nothing in the sky. Then the glint flashed again, and this time I spotted it. But it was too late. The Reaper was already upon us.

This was the first time I had seen a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper combat aircraft in flight. The experience stands in stark contrast to the thunder of fast jets or the whine of turboprops. In fact, the quiet whirring of the little 900 horsepower Honeywell turboprop seemed oddly toy-like. It seemed that way, if it wasn’t powering one of the most effective combat aircraft in the U.S. arsenal.

Holloman AFB in New Mexico is home to the U.S. Air Force 49th Wing Remotely Piloted Aircraft squadrons. The units include the 6th, 9th and unique 29th Attack Squadrons of the 49th Wing. This is the primary school for teaching new pilots to fly the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft. The school provides initial qualification training for the two person aircrews that fly the Reaper. In fact the 49th Wing’s 29th Attack Squadron (ATKS) is reported to be the only complete training unit for MQ-9 Reaper aircrews in the U.S. Air Force. This distinction puts their capabilities in high demand.

Out of the clear, blue New Mexico sky an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft flies over us at Holloman AFB.

Remotely piloted aircraft have been the subject of misconceptions that are largely the result of fiction about “drones” or equipment that somehow spins out of human control. It is almost no more possible with a remotely piloted aircraft like the Reaper than it is with an onboard manned aircraft using a modern fly-by-wire flight control system.

There have been rare instances of adversaries jamming or supposedly taking control of remotely piloted aircraft, as with a December 2011 incident when the Iranian military managed to capture a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel remotely piloted aircraft. But this incident is more of an anomaly than the risk of hijacks using a manned aircraft, as with the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States.

In fact, because security for the signal transmission that links the remotely piloted aircraft directly to its flight crew is codified and constantly improving, it is more likely that a onboard-manned aircraft can be hijacked than a remotely piloted aircraft. Remotely piloted aircraft can also be destroyed without risking the loss of flight crew, as was the case with an incident in September of 2009 in Afghanistan when U.S. combat aircraft destroyed a remotely piloted aircraft that suffered a rare control malfunction.

Last week TheAviationist.com gladly accepted a rare media invitation to see the RPA training operations at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The school operates several versions of the General Atomics MQ-9 Predator aircraft primarily for training new Predator aircrews.

A distant shot of Reapers at Holloman AFB being used in training missions over New Mexico.

During our tour of the facility, aircrews wore opaque adhesive tape over their name badges for operational security. The missions these aircrews are training for are real world. One instructor related a mission when a new Predator pilot, after extensive training, was tasked with employing live weapons against actual operational targets in a conflict zone only 37 minutes after receiving their full qualification. That level of operational readiness is unprecedented in nearly all current tactical aviation.

His name obscured by tape for operational security, a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper pilot describes the video feed from live missions being flown over Holloman AFB.

Predator operators and aircraft live behind additional layers of security within security in the remote New Mexico desert at Holloman. Because the nature of remotely operated combat aircraft reduces deployment time to near zero being in one of the control vans at Holloman was tantamount to standing on an operational forward airstrip in a conflict zone.

A sensor ball mounted under the nose of an MQ-9. This contains various spectrum sensors and cameras and provides the flight crew with their view of the flight operations.

As we received our briefings the cockpit feed from optical sensors and flight control instruments on live aircraft in flight appeared on monitors. It looked like flying any light aircraft, whether it is a Cessna general aviation aircraft or a small, stealthy combat aircraft like the MQ-9 Predator. As we watched an MQ-9 practice landing approaches we could see the response to the pilot’s flight control inputs. These really are just another form of highly capable light combat aircraft.

A rare look into the “cockpit” of the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted combat aircraft.

In March of 2017 the website Military.com reported that USAF Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson told a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida that, “The U.S. Air Force now has more jobs for MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers than any other type of pilot position.”

With the expansion of remotely piloted aircraft operations and the demand for aircrews to fly them it is reasonable to expect that the 49th Wing at Holloman will continue to be a very busy place.

Operational security around reaper control vans is elevated since the training and missions are a critical asset.

 

Salva

MQ-8B drone used as a laser designator platform for a MH-60S helicopter’s Hellfire missile shot

U.S. Navy MQ-8B UAS (unmanned air system) was used as a laser designator platform for a MH-60S Seahawk to fire a Hellfire missile.

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23 is a Coronado-based expeditionary squadron under Commander, Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Pacific. It is the first squadron to deploy a MH-60S Seahawk and MQ-8B Fire Scout composite detachment aboard Independence class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4).

On Sept. 14, an MQ-8B Fire Scout launched from NAS Point Mugu performed “buddy lasing” for an MH-60S helicopter with HSC-23 launched from NAS North Island.

Indeed, during a test, the Fire Scout drone detected a dynamic target, moving at approximately 10-15 knots inside the live-fire range off the coast of Point Mugu and transmitted its location to the MH-60S.

Once all target requirements were met, the Fire Scout lased the target while the MH-60S moved forward and into position to successfully fire an AGM-114N Hellfire missile against the “slow mover.”

“It was awesome to see the MQ-8B and MH-60S tactics and procedures being used in conjunction with each other for the first time,” said Lt. Cdr. Thanh Nguyen, one of the MH-60S pilots who participated in the exercise, in a U.S. Navy release. “We were able to validate the Fire Scout’s ability to find and designate a target, which greatly expands the lethal range of the MH-60S while keeping air crews out of harm’s way.”

The U.S. Navy considers the use of the “hunter-killer” team in future deployments a game-changer as it greatly expands the range and effectiveness of the MH-60S while keeping the helicopter out of harm’s way.

The Fire Scout has been already used in Afghanistan, off Africa (during anti-piracy ops) and during the air war in Libya: one MQ-8B drone copter was shot down during an ISR mission in support of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.

150501-N-VO234-059 SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 1, 2015) An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 performs ground turns aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3).  Fort Worth is on a 16-month rotational deployment in support of the Indo-Asia-Pacific Rebalance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Conor Minto/Released)

150501-N-VO234-059
SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 1, 2015) An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 performs ground turns aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3). Fort Worth is on a 16-month rotational deployment in support of the Indo-Asia-Pacific Rebalance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Conor Minto/Released)

Top image (showing an MH-60R) credit: U.S. Navy

 

Cool shots show AH-64D Apache Longbow Attack Helicopters flying over Hawaii

Do you remember Magnum P.I.?

The stunning photographs in this post show some of the 24 AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters that the 2-6 Cavalry Squadron, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade received from the National Guard as part of the Aviation Restructure Initiative in an effort to cut costs in U.S. Army Aviation and to fill the mission capability gap left by the retirement of the OH-58D Kiowa Reconnaissance Helicopter.

Apache Hawaii

The helicopters, that will be complemented by eight RQ-7B Shadow v2 unmanned aerial vehicles, will primarily be used for reconnaissance purposes, even though their impressive firepower will be useful to support ground troops.

“[…] The sensor package on the AH-64D provides greatly enhance optical clarity and subsequently better situational awareness for the aircrews and the ground force commander,” said Maj. Jacob Johnston, Executive Officer, 2-6 Cav. Rgt. in a story by U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Kyle Johnson.

Apache Hawaii 2

“The Apache is capable of deploying with a single nose mounted 30mm M230E1 Chain Gun, AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, and Hydra 70 general-purpose unguided 70mm rockets,” said Johnston. “These weapon systems, combined with the Target Acquisition Data System and the Fire Control Radar, make the Apache an extremely adept fighter.”

Apache Hawaii 3

The 2-6 Cavalry has started training on the new airframes recently and full mission capability is expected by summer 2017, with support in live-fire exercises in Fall 2016.

Apache Hawaii 4

“We are able to train with the 30mm chain-gun and 70mm rockets here on the island,” said Johnston. “This capability will ensure we’re ready to fight with a trained and prepared force throughout the Pacific as needed.”

Apache Hawaii 8

Apache Hawaii 6

Image credit: U.S. Army

Here are some interesting details about RAF Tornados first air strike on ISIS in Syria

RAF Tornados, supported by Voyager tanker and a Reaper UAV, have extended the UK’s airstrikes to Syria.

Hours after the UK parliament approved to extend the airstrikes to include Syria, Royal Air Force Tornado attack planes, deployed to Akrotiri, Cyprus, flew their first raid on terrorist targets inside Syria, early in the morning on Dec. 3.

The Tornados, supported by a Voyager tanker and a Reaper drone, dropped their Paveway IV guided bombs against six targets on an oilfield at Omar, “one of the ISIS’s largest and most important oilfields,” according to the MoD.

The six British “Tonkas” committed to Operation Shader flew their first mission against ISIS on Sept. 27, 2014 destroying the first ISIS target, a “technical” (an armed pick-up truck), in Iraq, on Sept. 30. Since then the RAF Tornado jets, have carried out hundreds of strike (and armed reconnaissance) missions against Daesh targets.

Although the payload may vary according to the type of mission the RAF Tornado GR4s have often carried a mixed load out with a single rack of three Brimstones and two Paveway IV 226kg bombs along with the Rafael Litening III targeting pod.

The Brimstone, is a fire-and-forget anti-armour missile, optimized for use against fast-moving platforms, first fielded during 2008 after an urgent operational requirement and used on the RAF Harriers during operations over Afghanistan.

With a warhead of 9 kg and a range of 7.5 miles, the Brimstones are an extensive redevelopment of the AGM-114 Hellfire and can be used on fast jets, helicopters and UAVs. They use a millimeter wave (mmW) radar seeker with a semi-active laser (SAL) that enables final guidance to the target by either the launching platform or another plane, and are perfect to destroy a vehicle with very low collateral damage risk, and an accuracy of about 1 – 2 meters. That’s why these small guided missiles have become the RAF weapons of choice since the Air War over Libya back in 2011.

Interestingly, one of the 8 RAF Tornados deployed at Akrotiri could be regularly tracked online during its transit from Cyprus to Iraq via Israel, Jordan, accompanied by a Voyager tanker: the example #ZA556 (the only “visible” aircraft in a formation of at least two planes) can be often spotted on Flightardar24.com as it flies into Israel, then into the Jordanian airspace before turning its transponder off to enter the Iraqi airspace.

Here are some of the latest logs:

With the air strikes now covering both Iraq and Syria, the UK has reinforced its contingent at Akrotiri with 10 Tornados and 6 (+3 spares) Eurofighter Typhoon, that have arrived in Cyprus on Dec. 3. The Typhoon FGR4 multirole planes (with their squadron markings stripped off..) belong to the Tranche 2: they can drop Paveway LGBs, but neither the Brimstones nor Storm Shadows yet.

RAF Marham depart Syria

Image credit: Crown Copyright

 

Video shows Brimstone anti-armour missile fired by RAF Tornado destroy ISIS armed pick-up in Iraq

Here’s the effect of the first British air strike on ISIS in Iraq.

On Sept. 30, RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft from RAF Akrotiri airbase, Cyprus, attacked ISIS positions in northwestern Iraq.

The two planes, were flying an armed reconnaissance mission when they were tasked to support Kurdish troops who were under attack from ISIS terrorists.

During the second strike, the British “Tonkas” destroyed a “technical” (armed pick-up truck) with a Brimstone missile.

The Brimstone, is a fire-and-forget anti-armour missile, first fielded during 2008 after an urgent operational requirement, used on the RAF’s Harriers during operations over Afghanistan, that became the RAF weapons of choice during  in the Air War over Libya.

The Tornado GR4, that didnt’ carry the Brimstone on their very first armed patrol over Iraq, carry a mixed load out with a single rack of three Brimstones and two Paveway IV 226kg bombs along with the Rafael Litening III targeting pod.

Optimized for use against fast moving platforms, these small guided missiles feature a warhead of 9 kg and have a range of 7.5 miles. They use a millimeter wave (mmW) radar seeker with a semi-active laser (SAL) that enables final guidance to the target by either the launching platform or another plane, and are perfect to destroy a vehicle with very low collateral damage risk, and an accuracy of about 1 – 2 meters.

Brimstone is an extensive redevelopment of the AGM-114 Hellfire and can be used on fast jets, helicopters and UAVs.