Tag Archives: Baltic Air Policing

Polish Parliamentary National Defense Committee Discusses the Future of the F-16s and Prospects of Acquiring 5th Gen. Jets

Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense analyzed the current state of the Polish Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet, its future, as well as plans related to the M-346 AJTs and JASSM / JASSM-ER missiles.

According to the report issued by Tomasz Dmitruk of the Polish “Dziennik Zbrojny” outlet, on Mar. 22, during the meeting of the Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense, Division General Pilot Jan Śliwka, who is also acting as the Deputy Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, presented the Polish Parliament the history and capabilities possessed by the F-16 multi-role jet aircraft, along with an overview of their technical status, maintenance requirements, armament and pilot’s training program. The General has also talked about the missions assigned to the backbone of the Polish Air Force.

The information presented during the event also provided a unique insight into the operations of the aircraft.

7-8 out of 48 jets are currently undergoing maintenance or overhauls – this constitutes 14-17% of the fleet, still leaving around 85% of the aircraft combat-ready. A single F-16 jet can spend 8,000 hours in the air, which means that total lifetime is equal to 384,000 hours (48 aircraft, 8000 hours each).  Based on the report issued by Dmitruk, all of the Jastrząb (Polish Air Force’s name ascribed to the F-16) jets have spent 53,000 hours in the air so far, which amounts up to 14% of the total lifetime.

This means that, should the operational activity of the jets be maintained at the current level, there is still an option to operate the aircraft for the next 30 years.

Last year we have seen the initial steps related to MLU (Mid-Life Update) of the Polish F-16 fighter fleet, as the Tape M6.5 upgrade has been implemented, following the decision to acquire the new AGM-158A JASSM and AGM-158B JASSM-ER cruise missiles, along with new variants of the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles).

The Polish Air Force is also looking forward to the acquisition of more Mk 82 bombs and JDAM and Paveway conversion kits.

Nonetheless, during the Committee Meeting, Śliwka informed that the Ministry is also analyzing the potential prospects of acquisition of more armament for the fighter jets which could expand their capabilities in specific domains. Notably, throughout the last two years we have witnessed an intensification of operations undertaken by the Polish F-16s with Warsaw’s Vipers deploying to Kuwait to join the air war against ISIS and plans to take part in the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

One of the priorities for the Polish Air Force is to acquire anti-radiation missiles. Orbital ATK’s AARGM missile has been quite intensively marketed in Poland throughout the past two years, so it may be safely stated that this weapon is a serious contender to becoming the primary SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) armament for the Polish jets. Furthermore, the MoD is also scrutinizing the prospects of acquiring new PGM (Precision Guided Munition) ordnance (including submunition pods to act against tanks and armored assets, as well as penetrating bombs which could be used to neutralize fortifications underground); lastly, the Air Force would also like to integrate the jet with an anti-ship missile.

Prospective procurement of new multi-role jets for the Polish Air Force was the second issue covered during the meeting.

This matter is somewhat urgent, since the Su-22 and MiG-29 aircraft are gradually becoming obsolete, with a prospect of being withdrawn starting from 2024-2025.

Their successor, as Dmitruk reports, shall be selected well ahead of the retirement of the two post-Soviet era jets.

According to General Śliwka, quoted by Dziennik Zbrojny, the requirements for the new multi-role combat aircraft have already been defined by the command, while the Armament Inspectorate (Polish MoD’s procurement body) is dealing with an analysis that is going to be included in a Strategic Defense Review, similar to its recent British counterpart.

The options currently weighted and considered, span from the acquisition of second-hand F-16A/B or C/D aircraft with subsequent upgrade, through procurement of brand new F-16s, to the eventual purchase of 5th Gen. F-35 aircraft.

The early conclusions indicate that procurement and upgrade of the Alpha/Bravo Falcons would lack a proper degree of cost-effectiveness.

After further analysis, and with the context taken into account at the MoD, General Staff and the Armament Inspectorate, Bartosz Kownacki, Polish Deputy Minister of Defence stated that the workload and expenditure entailed would be too high, in relation to potential benefits.

Kownacki noted that even though the price of second-hand aircraft would be at the level of 50% of the price of a new aircraft, the operational lifetime would also be 50% shorter. General Śliwka also mentioned the fact that the case of Romanian F-16 procurement was also looked at, and it turned out that the cost was higher, in comparison with potential acquisition of new aircraft. Hence the MoD might be inclined to go on, and join the F-35 users club, even though this is a longterm prospect plan

Meanwhile, the rumors (which circulated last year) that Poland would be considering selling its jets to Romania, have been once again denied.

During the meeting, the opposition also had a chance to ask questions to the Ministry.

First of the covered issues, raised by the former Deputy Minister of Defence Czesław Mroczek, dealt with the procurement of the M-346 jet-trainers and their compliance with the Polish specifications. Col. Waldemar Bogusławski, Deputy Head at the Armament Inspectorate, answered that the manufacturer confirmed its readiness to deliver the AJT [Advanced Jet Trainer] in a configuration compliant with the Polish expectations as late as in July this year.

Second question referred to the JASSM missiles.

General Jan Śliwka announced that one of the Polish Vipers is currently staying in the United States, and the tape M6.5 upgrade has been already introduced in its case. Following a test firing of the missile, the jet is to return back to Poland in April. The remaining aircraft are going to receive the software upgrades domestically, in Poland. Delivery of the first four JASSM missiles is to be finalized by the end of April (the photos published in the social media by the press officer of the Krzesiny 31st Airbase suggest that two missiles have already been delivered).

The 2014 procurement contract assumes that the missiles would be delivered in full between 2018 and 2019, with the AGM-158B JASSM-ER ordnance to follow, and subsequent deliveries scheduled in this case before 2020. The -ER missiles were contracted in December, last year.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork, W. Mazurkiewicz

Amid raising tension with Russia NATO E-3A AWACS aircraft visit eastern Europe

After Russia moved nuclear-capable missiles to NATO’s doorstep, NATO surveillance planes make cameo visit to Eastern Europe. And celebrate 1,000 missions.

On Oct. 11, a NATO E-3A AWACS visited Amari airbase, Estonia. Two days later another E-3 flew to  Siauliai, Lithuania: symbolic moves, that shows the alliance’s commitment to maintaining a persistent presence in Eastern Europe, where Russia has recently deployed nuclear-capable missiles.

The visit to Siauliai airbase, in Lithuania, main operating base of NATO’s BAP (Baltic Air Patrol) mission was preceded by a presentation of the NATO E-3 AWACS component E-3A at the 1st Airlift Base of the Polish Air Force in Warsaw. A visit that marked the surveillance plane’s 1,000th operational flight at NATO’s eastern flank since the beginning of Ukraine crisis.

The Boeing surveillance aircraft, one of the 16 E-3A AWACS planes based at Geilenkirchen, in Germany, was welcome to Warsaw by F-16 and MiG-29 jet fighters from the 31 and 23 Airbases of the Polish Air Force.

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Besides the Director of the Arms Policy Department, Col. Karol Dymanowski, the E-3 visit to Poland was the opportunity to celebrate the 1,000 sorties of the NATO’s primary Airborne Early Warning & Control platform in eastern Europe with a meeting attended by Deputy Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, Div. Gen. Jan Śliwka, commander of the Geilenkirchen NATO E-3A Component Brig. Gen. Karsten Stoye, along with the crew of the AWACS aircraft.

Interestingly, 5 members of the multinational aircrew were Polish.

E-3A Sentry aircraft have been operating inside the Polish airspace since the 2000. Once Poland joined the NAPMO (NATO Early Warning and Control Program Management Organization) program, along with 15 other countries, Warsaw acquired a right to use the fleet of the 17 AWACS platforms that remain at the NATO’s disposal. Besides Geilenkirchen, the jets are also authorized to use the Polish airbases, such as the Powidz 33rd Airlift Base which is visited by them quite frequently.

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AWACS airframes were involved in operations over Poland for the first time during the Fruit Fly/Eagle Talon exercise back in 2006, which was the first exercise with the participation of Sentry, following the acquisition of the F-16 Block 52+ jets, ten years ago On the other hand, the Geilenkirchen-based aircraft also provide support in organization of mass events, such as the Euro Football Cup organized back in 2012, or the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

This year, E-3A component participated in and supported the ANAKONDA-16 exercise, NATO Summit in Warsaw and the World Youth Day, as well as the Baltic Air Policing operation. According to the release issued by the Polish MoD, the Geilenkirchen component has also been closely cooperating with the Polish fighter pilots of the 1st and 2nd Tactical Aviation Wings, since 2015.

The operations undertaken by the airborne radar are also tied to a number of NATO initiatives, including the aforementioned BAP mission as well as the rotational presence of the NATO forces in the region, within the framework of the Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The E-3A airborne radar is available to the member states during the crisis, as well as during the exercises concerning the IADS (Integrated Air Defense System) or other significant allied training initiatives.

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Image credit: Foto Poork’s Wojciech Mazurkiewicz

 

Here are the Russian planes (including a rare special mission aircraft) intercepted by the Belgian F-16s over the Baltics

An-12PPS special mission aircraft among those met by the Belgian Air Force “Vipers” during their BAP (Baltic Air Patrol) rotation.

The images in this post were taken by the Belgian Air Force during their latest rotation of support to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

F-16 vs Su-27

Flying out of Amari Air Base, Estonia, the Belgian F-16 jets augmented the Lead Nation Spain’s Eurofighter Typhoon jets from January to April 2016.

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BAF in BAP 2

The aircraft were often launched to intercept and escort Russian planes flying over the Baltics. Among them, Su-27 Flanker, Tu-134AK, Il-76, An-72 and also an An-12PPS.

Il-76 + F-16

The An-12PPS “Cub-D” is a jamming variant of the Antonov medium military transport.

According to “Russia’s Warplanes, Volume 1” by Piotr Butowski published by Harpia Publishing, one of the most authoritative sources on Russian-made military aircraft and helicopters today and set to become the standard reference work on the subject, the Russian Air Force operates several standoff ECM aircraft based on the standard An-12 airframe. Their task is to provide jamming cover to formation of transport aircraft carrying airborne troops by disguising the heading and composition of the formation during assault missions behind the front line.

Actually, the RF-90787 “19 Red” depicted in the photos taken by the BAF pilots lacks the most interesting equipment carried by the few An-12PPS aircraft: the Siren-D active jammer, usually mounted in four cigar-shaped pods, two under the forward fuselage and one on each side of the tailfin base. Still, it features another Cub-D’s distinctive feature: the SPS-100 Rezeda self-protection jammer built into the aircraft’s tail in lieu of the tail gunner’s turret.

Indeed, the aircraft is actually a former An-12PPS that was converted to the transport role back in 2001. Still, it’s a pretty rare bird!

BAF in BAP

According to “Russia’s Warplanes, Volume 1” only a few such aircraft are currently in Russian Air Force service at Orenburg and Akhtubinsk.

An-12PPS with F-16

Image credit: BAF

 

Russian Su-27 interceptor performs Top Gun stunt over U.S. spyplane

An “unsafe and unprofessional” intercept over the Baltic Sea.

On April 14, a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent electronic intelligence gathering aircraft flying a routine mission (in international airspace) over the Baltic Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 in “an unsafe and unprofessional manner,” Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez, U.S. European Command spokesman told the CNN.

According to EUCOM, the Flanker began the barrel roll from the left side of the U.S. RC-135 and went over the top of it to end on the right side of the aircraft, an aggressive maneuver (not compliant with the international standards) that brought the Russian jet dangerously close to colliding with the Combat Sent.

The episode comes few days after Russian Su-24s performed several low passes over a U.S. destroyer in the Baltic Sea, and it’s only the last in a long series of tense close encounters between American spyplanes and Russian fighters in the skies across the world.

On Jan. 25, 2016 a U.S. RC-135 intelligence gathering jet was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet over Black Sea: during the interception, the Su-27 made an aggressive turn that disturbed the controllability of the RC-135.

On Apr. 7, 2015 another Su-27 flew within 20 feet of an RC-135U, over the Baltic Sea.

On Apr. 23, 2015 a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that crossed the route of the U.S. aircraft putting itself within 100 feet of the Combat Sent.

Actually, some “reckless” intercepts on U.S. spyplanes have been conducted by Chinese pilots as well.

In 2014, a Chinese Flanker made a barrel roll over a U.S. Navy P-8 maritime surveillance plane 135 miles east of Hainan Island, a spot of a far more dangerous close encounter of another U.S. electronic surveillance plane with the Chinese Navy back in 2001.

On Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters.

One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.

The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.

Anyway, not only have U.S. aircraft been harassed during intercept missions. Here are just a few examples.

On Sept. 13, 1987, a RNoAF P-3B had a mid-air collision in similar circumstances with a Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker over the Barents Sea.

In Apr. 2012, whilst flying over the Barents Sea on a routine mission, a Norwegian P-3 Orion almost collided with a Russian Air Force Mig-31 Foxhound that had intercepted the patrol aircraft.

On Jul. 16, 2014, between Gotland and Latvia, a Russian Su-27 Flanker, armed with 6 air-to-air missiles, intercepted one of the two Swedish ELINT jet, and flew as close as 10,7 meters of the spyplane.

Top image: not an actual photo but a composition we made using Wiki images

 

Air-to-Air with the Hungarian Gripens involved in the Baltic Air Policing Operation

Up close and personal with the HuAF Gripens.

Taken by Filip Modrzejewski, editor in chief of the Foto Poork website, these amazing photos show two of the Hungarian JAS-39M Gripen jets taking part in the Baltic Air Policing operation as seen from a Lithuanian C-27J Spartan.

The mission of patrolling the Baltic skies has been intensified by NATO since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis amid growing tensions with Russia. The main aim of the operation is to bolster and expand the air defense capabilities of the Baltic Republics (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia), that are in possession of limited military inventory and unable to guard their sovereign airspace alone.

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This rotation of the Baltic Air Policing deployment began on Aug. 31.

Hungary acts as the lead nation, operating its jets from the Šiauliai airbase, while additional support is being provided by the German Eurofighters, stationed – as usually – at the Ämari airbase in Estonia.

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As Filip Modrzejewski told us, this photo-shoot was especially challenging, since the airspace was cloudy up to FL240, and the only gap between the cloud layers could have been found at 4 000 feet, where the pictures were taken.

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The plan foresaw that the Gripens would be joined by the German Eurofighters, flying from Amari, however the Germans joined the formation briefly before leaving again for their deployment base where the weather was quickly deteriorating. The Luftwaffe’s jets were forced to return to Estonia at a supersonic speed!

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Images Credit: Filip Modrzejewski (Foto Poork)