Tag Archives: Alaska

Dissecting The Latest Close Encounter Between U.S. F-22 Raptors And Russian Su-35S Flankers Off Alaska

Let’s have a look at what happened in the airspace off Alaska a couple of weeks ago.

On the night of May 3, 2017, two Russian nuclear-capable Tu-95MS Bear bombers, this time escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, flew again inside the Alaskan ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).

The “mini” package was intercepted by two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors some 50 NM to the south of Chariot, Alaska.

The Su-35 is a 4++ generation aircraft characterized by supermaneuverability. Although it’s not stealth, it is equipped with a Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically-Scanned Array) and a long-range IRST – Infrared Search and Tracking – system capable, (according to Russian sources…) to detect stealth planes like the F-35 at a distance of over 90 kilometers.

The Su-35S was deployed at Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia in Syria at the beginning of 2016, to provide cover to the Russian warplanes conducting raids in Syria in the aftermath of the downing of a Su-24 Fencer by a Turkish Air Force F-16. During the Syrian air war the aircraft carried Vympel R-77 medium range, active radar homing air-to-air missile system (a weapon that can be considered the Russian counterpart of the American AIM-120 AMRAAM) along with R-27T (AA-10 Alamo-B), IR-guided air-to-air missiles (however, the Flanker E jets escorting the Tu-95s off Alaska, did not carry any weapon.)

Shortly after being deployed to Syria the Su-35S started shadowing US-led coalition aircraft: a German Air Force spokesperson explained that the Russian Flankers were among the aircraft used by the Russian Air Force to shadow the GAF Tornado jets carrying out reconnaissance missions against ISIS; a VFA-131 video that included footage from the cruise aboard USS Eisenhower in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, in Syria and Iraq showed a close encounter with what looked like a Su-35S Flanker-E filmed by the Hornet’s AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod.

Although we have no confirmed reports of “close encounters” between the F-22 and the Flanker in the skies over Syria, what makes May 3 episode particularly interesting is the fact that this was the first time the U.S. Air force Raptors saw the Su-35S near the U.S. coasts.

Moreover, it’s worth noticing the “readiness in flight” posture of the stealth fighters.

Indeed, according to USAF, the Raptors were “committed” by North American Aerospace Defense Command to intercept the Russian aircraft while already in air patrol not too far away. It’s not clear whether the F-22s were already flying because involved in “Northern Edge”, Alaska’s largest and premier joint training exercise with MOB (Main Operating Base) at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) was one of the measures introduced to enhance the readiness of the U.S. Air Force Air Defense assets as a consequence of the “unprecedented level activity of Russian bombers” recorded in the last months.

Anyway, the American premiere stealth fighters were already flying and thus could be quickly diverted by NORAD to “greet” the Russian package, this time supported by an A-50 Mainstay surveillance plane from distance.

The presence of Mainstay and Flanker confirms what this Author has already explained in the previous report about the key factors to take in consideration when planning a long-range strike sortie.

In my opinion the “mini package” was launched as a consequence of the increased flight activity in Alaska related to the Northern Edge exercise, confirming that the Russians closely observe what happens in the Alaskan area.

This time, they wanted to showcase their ability to plan a complex long-range sortie as well as the Flanker’s readiness to escort its own HVA (high value asset), the Bear, during operations at strategic distance.

The composition of this package is also worth a comment.

The presence of the Mainstay should not be underestimated. It was flying well behind the Flanker and Bear aircraft with a specific purpose. As an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform the A-50 is believed to embed some ESM (Electronic Support Measures): in other words, it is able to detect far away targets as well as able to sniff radar, radio and data link emissions. Furthermore, Raptors in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) *usually* fly with external fuel tanks and Lunenburg lenses: this means that they are (consciously) visible to radars. In such conditions, although it can’t “characterize” the clean F-22’s signature, the Mainstay can at least gather some data about the interceptors’ radar emissions (if any) and observe and study their tactics.

Therefore, as frequently happens on both sides since the Cold War, on May 3, the Russians most probably carried out another simulated long-range strike mission but with a precise ELINT (ELectronics INTelligence) objective: the Flankers and Bears were acting as a “decoy” package to test the American scramble tactics and reaction times, whereas the Mainstay, in a back position, tried to collect as much signals and data as possible about the US fighters launched to intercept them.

 

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These are probably the best F-22 Raptor air-to-air images we have ever seen!

Arctic Raptors provide Alaska Air Dominance.

The images in this post show F-22 Raptor stealth fighters belonging to the 90th FS “Pair-O-Dice,” the first F-22 squadron in Alaska, receiving its advanced aircraft in 2007.

Taken by aviation photographer John Dibbs, they were released by Lockheed Martin’s Code One magazine along with an interesting story about the Arctic Raptors based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Along with 90th and 525th FS, belonging to 3rd Wing, the 302nd FS is an Air Force Reserve Command’s associate unit that provides pilots and maintainers who fly and fix the aircraft alongside their active duty counterparts.

As the Code One article points out, not only do the pilots of the 302nd are on alert, ready to go at a moment’s notice, year-round, they are also the most experienced F-22 squadron in the USAF, with four of the eleven total Raptor pilots who have achieved the 1,000-hour milestone.

F-22 Code One 1

The Arctic Raptors “are nine hours or less flight time to almost any location in the northern hemisphere. Further, with the renewed Russian bomber activity over the last several years, the F-22s at Elmendorf are on alert twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”

Indeed, F-22s based in Alaska have often been scrambled to intercept Russian Tu-95s in the past months.

H/T Guillaume Steuer (@G_Steuer) for the heads-up

F-22 Code One 3

Image credit: John Dibbs / Code One

 

Two U.S. B-52 bombers help Cessna in Alaska in a memorable rescue mission

Few days before flying “violation” of China’s new ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), the iconic B-52H Stratofortress bomber was involved in another memorable operation.

On Nov. 10, two B-52s, respectively launched from Minot and Barksdale AFB with radio callsign Hail 13 and Hail 14, were flying over Alaska, when they were called from Anchorage ATCC (Air Traffic Control Center), asking for their assistance: contacts with a Cessna plane had been lost after its pilot became disoriented after flying into bad weather.

The small plane was flying at such a low altitude that the ATC was unable to talk with it on the radio.

Hail 13 was about 200 miles away from the Cessna pilot’s estimated location when they got the distress call.

“The first thing we did was calculate our fuel to make sure we had enough,” said Capt. Joshua M. Middendorf, 69th BS aircraft commander of Hail 13. “We also had to ensure our wingman, Hail 14, would have enough fuel to make it back to Barksdale.”

After assessing that they had enough fuel for the new task Hail 13 headed directly west in search of the Cessna pilot.

One hundred miles into their detour, the leading B-52 was able to locate and establish a radio contact with the pilot who had dropped to low level to keep visual contact of the terrain below the clouds and was flying through a ground surrounded by mountains.

Since the B-52 was much higher it could act as a relay between the pilot and the ATC, providing the distress pilot information about the weather ahead and “directions” to reach the nearest landing field.
As the pilot approached Calhoun Memorial Airport in Tanana, Alaska, Hail 13 turned up the air field lights over a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) to help the pilot landing safely.

“Although both crews flew hundreds of miles off course, they did not allow the detour to compromise their mission,” the Air Force official release on the episode says.

“The fuel saved by the crew of HAIL13 in the beginning stages of the mission allowed them to fly faster back to their original course, putting them back on schedule. Not only did they meet schedule, HAIL13 and their wingman were able to complete every mission checkpoint, resulting in a successful mission.”

Did you know that, among all the other roles, the B-52 could also fly SAR (Search And Rescue) support missions?

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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Alaska’s F-22 stealth fighter jets became the first operational Raptors to drop GBU-39 small diameter bombs

The 3rd Wing F-22 stealthy multi-role fighters based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson became the first operational Raptor unit to drop GBU-39 small diameter bombs.

It happened during exercise Combat Hammer, a weapon system evaluation program sponsored by the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, in the Utah Test and Training Range, “the only location in the U.S. where the F-22s can employ SDBs at speeds and altitudes unique to the Raptor,” said Maj. Wade Bridges, a Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron.

The Alaska’s F-22s have received the software increment 3.1 that enables them to drop the 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets; equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range.

Among the Lessons Learned of the Air War in Libya, there was the need to employ SDBs to improve accuracy and reduce collateral damage.

The SDB is currently integrated on the F-15E Strike Eagle whereas all the remaining U.S. bombers (including the F-35) will get the GBU-39 in the future. The Italian and Israeli air forces have procured this kind of weapon as well.

Separation tests on the Raptor began in Sept. 2007.

The training event allowed for Total Force Integration across the F-22 fleet: pilots from both the 302nd and the 525th Fighter Squadrons and maintainers from the 3rd Maintenance Group and the 477th Fighter Group deployed from Alaska to take part in the exercise, alongside the Hawaii’s 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons pilots and associated ground personnel who took part to this Combat Hammer as well.

The successful delivery of air-to-ground weapons marks an important step for the Hawaiian Raptors towards declaration of Initial Operational Capability.

As the debate about the F-22 “invicibility” goes on after the confrontation with the Eurofighter Typhoon during the Red Flag Alaska, the integration of the SDB is another good news for the troubled stealthy fleet which follows the one about a gradual lifting of restrictions imposed by the hypoxia like symptoms plaguiing the aircraft missions in the last two years.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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[HD Video] Hang onto the wing of a C-130 Hercules as it flies at tree top height in the valleys during Red Flag Alaska

As already explained, even in the hi-tech age of stealth bombers, low-level flying is still one of the most important parts of combat pilot training.

The fact that some recent scenarios give combat planes the opportunity to quietly operate at medium or high altitude with standoff weapons, because of the lack of anti-aircraft threats, doesn’t imply there’s no longer need to train for flying at low level.

Aircraft involved in special operations, reconnaissance, Search And Rescue, troops or humanitarian airdrops in trouble spots around the world may have to fly at low altitudes as this may be the best way to penetrate the enemy airspace avoiding detection by the enemy’s air defense system.

Even a stealth plane (or helicopter), spotted visually by an opponent, could be required to escape at tree top height to survive an engagement by enemy fighter planes or an IR guided missile.

Low level flying is quite demanding because of the risk involved with flying at high speeds few meters above the terrain. That’s why it’s still part of the Red Flag exercise.

In this impressive HD video, you’ll join a Polish Air Force C-130 as it flies at low altitude between the valleys of Alaska during a RF sortie.