Tag Archives: Davis–Monthan Air Force Base

The U.S. Air Force Has Deployed One Of Its EC-130H Compass Call Electronic Warfare Aircraft To South Korea

One of the few EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, capable to find and hit the enemy forces with denial of service (and possibly cyber) attacks on their communication networks, has been deployed to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets: “The Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”

The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.

An EC-130H Compass Call travels along the taxiway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 27, 2017. Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system that uses noise jamming to disrupt enemy command and control communications and deny time-critical adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.

According to the official data:

The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.

The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.

Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.

Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.

With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.

Obviously, we can’t speculate about the reason behind the deployment of the Electronic Warfare with alleged Cyber-Attack capabilities (that could be particularly useful against certain threats these days….) aircraft south of the DMZ: however, the presence of such a specialized and somehow rare aircraft in the Korean peninsula, that joins several other intelligence gathering aircraft operating over South Korea amid raising tensions for quite some time, is at least worth of note.

Update: some of our sources have suggested that the aircraft was deployed to perform anti-IED (Improvised Electronic Device) tasks during the Winter Olympics, kicking off on Feb. 9, 2018 in PyeongChang County, South Korea.

GoPro video shot from inside an A-10 Thunderbolt flying a Hawg Smoke 2016 mission

This is how BRRTTTTT sounds from inside the Hog’s cockpit.

Hawg Smoke is a biannual competition, gathering A-10C Thunderbolt II jets from several U.S. Air Force units and featuring strafing, high-altitude dive-bombing, low-angle high-delivery, Maverick missile precision.

Hawg Smoke 2016 saw 48 A-10C Warthog aircraft from 13 team operate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, between Jun. 2-4.

This clip shows what a mission that includes GAU-8 Avenger strafing looks like from inside the cockpit: the 30mm rotary cannon is the Hog’s primary weapon and is able to fire 3,900 bullets per minute.

 

U.S. Navy bids farewell to the S-3 Viking

The last two U.S. Navy S-3 Vikings have performed the final Navy flight.

After more than 40 years of service the last pair of S-3B Vikings took off for the last time from the runway at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California, on Jan. 11.

Developed to replace the S-2 Tracker, the “Hoover” (as the S-3 was nicknamed by its aircrews) entered the active service in 1974 and served in a wide variety of roles such as the anti-submarine warfare (ASW), the air-to-air refueling, the electronic intelligence and the carrier onboard delivery (COD).

Officially withdrawn from U.S. Navy front-line service in 2009, two retired Vikings were assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 30 to monitor the vast Point Mugu Sea Range.  As explained by Capt. John Rousseau, who led the charge to bring the retired aircraft to VX-30, the S-3B was the perfect aircraft to patrol the range: “It’s got legs, it can go fast and long. The radar, even though it’s old, there’s not many better. We still spot schools of dolphins and patches of seaweed.”

The VX-30, that still operated three Vikings, retired the first of its S-3Bs in November when the airplane was flown to the military aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

Unlike the two that launched from Point Mugu for the final Navy sortie, at least one will continue flying with NASA.

S-3 Viking Farewell
Top image: Scott Dworkin / U.S. Navy; Bottom image: Photographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Nathan Laird / U.S. Navy 

U.S. A-10 Tank Busters deployed to Poland…again.

Some USAF A-10 “Warthogs” are stationed in Poland.

354th EFS (Expeditionary Fighter Squadron) has deployed again to Poland.

This time the A-10s maintain their presence at the Polish 32nd Air Base located in Łask, near Łódź, in the central part of the country. The aim of their presence, according to the statements made by the base press officer that emerged in a variety of media, is to participate in a joint exercise with the Polish Air Force, within the scope of the Air Force Theater Security Package.

The overall goal of the NATO initiative, undertaken in the light of the Ukrainian crisis, is to reassure the allies of the NATO eastern flank, and to maintain collective defense capabilities.

Earlier on, the Thunderbolts were stationed (temporarily) at the Polish Powidz Airbase. Notably, this time the Warthog detachment is larger (includes 12 examples), and the deployment itself is to be longer, as it is going to last until the end of July, according to the rumors.

It is worth noting that this time the deployment did not get that much media attention, in comparison with the previous presence of the A-10 in Poland. The spotters, who published the photos of the Warthogs online were the first signs of their presence in the region.

The A-10 that are currently stationed in Poland come from the 355th Fighter Wing which is based at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Arizona. They have been operating in Mid-Eastern Europe for some time now, visiting Poland, Bulgaria or Romania, participating in a variety of exercises (e.g. the Dragoon Ride operation).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

U.S. A-10s to perform low level training in Latvia

Low flying Thunderbolts over Latvia.

According to the information released by the Latvian Ministry of Defense, NATO air assets, namely the A-10 Thunderbolts deployed as a part of the Theater Security Package, are going to use the country’s airspace to conduct low-level flying.

The release issued by the Latvian authorities asks the public not to be worried about the low-flying Hogs. The missions are going to take place only on specific, agreed dates and times, starting from Jun. 8, 2015.

The low-level flying is to be carried out outside the firing ranges – this is the reason why the event is so unusual. It was said that the training’s purpose is to maintain and refine the pilots’ skills and combat readiness.

All the information pertaining the operations are going to be available on the Internet. It was already said that the sorties would take place in seven districts, namely: Rūjiena, Smiltene, Aluksne – Gulbene, Balvi – Vilani, Madona – Plavinas, Jēkabpils and Preiļi – Līvāni.

According to the Ministry, the Warthog training operations within the Latvian airspace are a part of the Operation Atlantic Resolve, undertaken by NATO in the light of the Ukrainian crisis. The low-level training operations are going to be organized in a way that will not pose a threat to the public.