Tag Archives: Air Combat Command

The U.S. Air Force F-35A is ready for war. More or less.

On Aug. 2, 2016, the F-35A was declared “combat ready” by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command. “A historic and monumental day for the program” according to Lockheed Martin; just an “Initial” capability, according to many others.

About 15 years after Lockheed Martin was awarded with a contract to develop the Joint Strike Fighter, currently known as the F-35 Lightning II, the fifth generation stealth plane, has eventually achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the U.S. Air Force.

The first squadron declared to be operational is the 34th Fighter Squadron based at Hill AFB in Utah that was required to have at least 12 airframes ready for deployment operating as a basic close air support and air interdiction and limited SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) platform.

Along with other personnel, maintenance and support requirements the Air Force squadron was also expected to ensure that enough pilots are combat ready, and pass proper examination: as of Jul. 27, 21 pilots and 12 F-35A airframes could be deployed in theater.

Which one?

Well, for the moment, one of those featuring low-lethality threats or where the limited, initial capabilities of the F-35 are considered enough to counter the enemy air defenses: although the JSF has improved a lot through the years, slowly solving the long series of issues the program has experienced since the beginning (some of those still being solved), it is still far from being the aircraft advertised in the beginning.

For sure, as claimed by the head of the Air Combat Command, General Herbert “Hawk” Calisle, its stealth properties, along with the net-centric battlefield capabilities and electronic countermeasures, are the elements which are required in order to face the challenges of the dynamically changing environment of the contemporary battlefield, especially when one considers the enemy weapons systems the F-35 would be required to face.

For the type of threat faced by the U.S. combat planes in the current theaters an IOC F-35 could be more than enough to well perform in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, but a “real” air war against an enemy who shoots back would require an aircraft with the ability to conduct Anti-Access Offensive Counter Air,  full SEAD/DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) missions and something more that the U.S. Air Force Lightning II is simply not ready to perform.

So, does this IOC matter? Yes and no.

Surely, after cost overruns, delays, issues of various types, it marks another achievement for the USAF F-35A but, as widely reported for instance by War Is Boring, the initial IOC requirements have been watered down to meet the deadlines.

F-35 IOC timeline

As Defense News notes, the main concern for the Air Force is the 3F software suite of the jet, facing some instability issues, which is expected to be patched up throughout the year 2017, giving the aircraft a capacity to use new armament such as the SDBs (Small-Diameter Bombs), alongside the interface changes.

Also, Lockheed’s Autonomic Logistics Information System, ALIS 2.0.2 – an update of the logistics/maintenance suite – is not expected to be ready by the end of October, even though the Hill AFB personnel stated that the ALIS issue was not a “limiting factor”.

So, in spite of the media hype following the IOC, coherent with the usual PR support that surrounds every F-35 achievement, there is still much room for improvements, development and true operational testing.

The F-35 is now going to take a path of operational deployments, in clearly defined stages. First the Red Flags, and then – inevitably – the jet is going to become a part of the “Theater Security Packages” sent to Europe and Asia.

Some claims also emerged that within 18 months Lightning II would be stationed at RAF Lakenheath (but not permanently – this would happen around 2021, and the jets would rather complement than replace the F-15s stationed there), which would also mean that Mach Loop low-level operations could also be expected within that period, as well as some “hop-like” deployments around the continental Europe.

The prospects of development assume that Hill AFB is going to become a home for two more operational F-35 squadrons, with a view of Burlington Air National Guard Base in Vermont becoming the second operational base — and the first Air National Guard base — to host the F-35.

Burlington is going to use 18 F-35 airframes replacing its F-16 jets. Next up, 24 F-35 jets would be stationed in Alaska, around 2020 – at the Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, as Defense News reports, forming an added capability, not replacing any assets stationed in the northernmost US state.

Three more bases are to be selected soon, with fifth and sixth belonging to the ANG, while the seventh one would be established in one of the bases that currently host F-16s or A-10s: Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona or Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas.

Summing up, the much troubled and costly F-35 has grown: probably a bit more than the detractors want you to believe and probably less than both LM, the U.S. armed forces and other operators want you to believe. Hence, there is still much work to do, but we’re probably on a good path.

Written with Jacek Siminski

Salva

Salva

Salva

Jaw-dropping 360° video brings you aboard a P-51 flying with an F-22 in close formation

Enjoy a ride in a P-51 flying in formation with an F-22 Raptor.

The following cockpit footage was captured at the 2015 Abbotsford International Air Show .

It lets you experience a 360° view from inside the Heritage Flight Museum’s P-51D Mustang “VAL-HALLA” piloted by Greg “B.A.” Anders while flying with Maj John “Taboo” Cummings piloting the Air Combat Command’s F-22 Raptor in close formation.

If you use one of the supported browsers (I’ve tested it with both Firefox and Chrome and it works) or app, by using the virtual mouse in the upper left corner, the camera will let you move around the 360 degree field of view of the spherical video.

Pretty impressive.

360° tech will soon become a standard in aviation videos. Few weeks ago we showed a similar, cool video, shot from inside the rear cockpit of an F-5F Tiger of the “Patrouille Suisse” display team during a flight over the Swiss Alps.

 

A U.S. Air Force Intel team turned a comment on social media into an airstrike on ISIS building

A comment on a social media can attract three JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions).

It looks like the imprudent use of social media cost ISIS an air strike and three JDAMs dropped by U.S. attack planes on one of their buildings.

According to Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, airmen belonging to the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, at Hurlburt Field, Florida, were able to geo-locate an ISIS headquarters building thanks to a comment posted on social media by a militant.

As Carlisle explained to Defense Tech:

“The guys that were working down out of Hurlburt, they’re combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command. And in some social media, open forum, bragging about the command and control capabilities for Daesh, ISIL. And these guys go: ‘We got an in.’ So they do some work, long story short, about 22 hours later through that very building, three [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] take that entire building out.”

Although the U.S. Air Force did not release any further information about the location of the headquarters or the aircraft that carried out the attack, the story is quite interesting as it proves that not only are social media used by ISIS for propaganda and recruiting purposes, they are also used by U.S. intel team to identify ground targets, supplementing ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) activities conducted with the “usual” platforms, like satellites, spyplanes and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

U.S. and NATO soldiers are always made aware of the risk of using social media and, generally speaking, digital technologies which embed information that can be exploited by the adversaries in various ways. Still OPSEC (Operations Security) breaches occur.

In 2007 four Apache helicopters were lost in Iraq because of smartphone geotagging: insurgents were able to determine the exact location of the AH-64s and successfully attack them because some soldiers had taken pictures on the flightline and uploaded them (including geotagging data) to the Internet.

Now even IS militants have experienced how dangerous an incautious use of social media can be.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

U.S. Air Force MC-130P’s pararescue jumper: “it’s a tough job but someone has to do it”

The following shows U.S. Air Force airmen on an MC-130P assigned to the 129th Rescue Wing, Moffett Federal Airfield, California as they conduct Search and Rescue training with Rigging Alternate Method Zodiac (RAMZ), Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling and Low Level Tactical flying above Northern California on Jun. 18, 2013.

Pararescuemen

Pararescuemen or PJs (Pararescue Jumpers), are United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and Air Combat Command (ACC) operatives tasked with recovery and medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat environments.

They can also be used to support NASA missions and have been used to recover astronauts after water landings.

Enhanced by Zemanta

"Risk must be balanced with the requirement for the capability" Air Combat Command chief still confident in F-22 says

According to a press release issued on May 5, 2012, Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of Air Combat Command, will soon begin flying the Raptor in order to better understand what his F-22 pilots are dealing with.

In a recent press briefing, Hostage told reporters that “a very small number” of F-22 pilots have asked not to fly the F-22 Raptor fighter jets, or to be reassigned to other units, because of the oxygen-deprivation problems with the fifth generation stealth fighter.

Image credit: AP Photo/Steve Helber

The admission came out of the blue, ahead of the interview of two such pilots with Lesley Stahl during CBS 60 Minutes, that will be broadcast on May 6.

Indeed, as the Air Force struggles to identify the root cause of the hypoxia-like symptoms experienced by the Raptor pilots, Hostage believes this risk is not a risk he expects his airmen to take alone.

“I’m asking these guys to assume some risk that’s over and above what everybody else is assuming, and I don’t feel like it’s right that I ask them to do it and then I’m not willing to do it myself — that’s not fair,” he said, adding that the day they figure out what the problem is the day he will stop flying.

The entire fleet was grounded from May to September 2011 and since the stand down was lifted the ACC has implemented a series of risk mitigation measures aimed to prevent further incidents.

However, pilots are “not comfortable” flying the F-22 right now.

Although Hostage understands the concerns, he says that risk must be balanced with operational requirements:

“In a peacetime training circumstance, we want to operate at as low of risk is prudent for the level of training we get out of a mission,” he said. “When we go into combat, risk goes up, but the reason to assume that risk goes up as well.”

He didn’t comment where a certain number of Raptors are deployed, but we have already discovered that six F-22s from Holloman AFB are currently operating at Al Dhafra, in UAE and, as far as we know they are not literally “in combat”.

They are not supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan nor replacing any other legacy fighter elsewhere, but they are flying air-to-air training sorties in UAE. Therefore, maybe, there’s no need to take the risk.

Unless we assume that the Raptors in the Gulf are going to be involved in an attack on Iran: in this case the F-22 would be needed, at least to perform air superiority missions, since those currently “near Iran” are not yet air-to-surface capable.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force