Tag Archives: Electronic Warfare

U.S. Air Force RC-135s teaming up with Marine Corps EA-6Bs (and others..) to detect and suppress ISIS comms

In the skies over Iraq, USAF spyplanes, USMC and USN Electronic Attack aircraft work together to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate.

The image above shows a U.S. Air Force RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, disconnecting from a USAF KC-10 Extender tanker after receiving fuel near Iraq on Dec. 5, 2016.

Here below you can see a similar photograph of a U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft belonging to VMAQ-2 from MCAS Cherry Point, temporarily deployed to Incirilik Air Base, Turkey preparing for refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, on Nov. 29, 2016.

Although they have a different role and belong to different services both aircraft are often part of the same team, a team whose goal is to shut down Daesh communications.

A Marine EA-6B Prowler peels off after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. The 340th EARS extend the fight against Da'esh by delivering 60,000 pounds of fuel to USAF A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles and U.S. Marine EA-6B Prowlers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

A Marine EA-6B Prowler peels off after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. The 340th EARS extend the fight against Da’esh by delivering 60,000 pounds of fuel to USAF A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles and U.S. Marine EA-6B Prowlers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

Little details are available about the missions these HVAs (High Value Assets) carry out together in theater against the Islamic State even though we have been able to collect some interesting details about the way they team up to conduct their secretive tasks.

First of all, a major role is played by the RC-135 Rivet Joint intelligence gathering planes.

In fact, as already pointed out by War Is Boring journalist Joseph Trevithick, not only do the USAF Rivet Joints eavesdrop and pinpoint “enemy” radio signals, but they can also disseminate the details about these targets via tactical data-link to other aircraft, including the Prowlers, whose role is to jam those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone or using portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

Robert Hopkins, III, a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models in the 1980s and 1990s, and author of a book on the type, says that “RJ (Rivet Joint) can share the intelligence they collect with a wide variety of assets, both aerial and ground, to meet their operational requirements.”

Here are some relevant excerpts from his revised book Boeing KC-135: More Than a Tanker to be released by Crécy in February 2017, that explain how this ability to collect and share information with other aircraft has evolved during the years:

“Among the significant improvements included in the Baseline 7 jets (beginning with 62-4131 in late 2001) were derivatives of the Link 16 Joint Tactical Information Display System (JTIDS), including Tactical Digital Links (TDL), formerly Tactical Digital Information Links (TADIL). These provided narrowband communications with other tactical airborne assets as well as the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), emphasizing the Rivet Joint’s increasing conventional combat support role. […]

The impressive capabilities of the Rivet Joint in operations in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere found strong support among combat commands, and led to a broad range of planned enhancements. […]

Baseline 8 jets incorporated improved collection techniques, ‘user friendliness’, and system reliability, as well as automated and faster information dissemination capabilities. They were the first to be extensively ‘connected’ to other airborne and ground-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting assets. RC-135W 62-4126 was the first Baseline 8 Rivet Joint. It included the satellite-based Remote Extended Aircraft Position Enabling Reachback (REAPER—also noted as Narrowband Reachback, or NABRE) and Network Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) systems.

[…]

Baseline 8 is also able to ‘talk’ to the U-2S and the ground-based, tri-service Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) processing and dissemination architecture to connect directly with other ISR airplanes such as the Beechcraft RC-12 Guardrail, Boeing E-8 JointSTARs, and US and allied nation Boeing E-3 AWACS.

[…]

A single Rivet Joint, for example, might detect a signal of interest (SOI) but be unable to provide a precise location, especially as the RC-135 moves along its flight path. Using multiple, networked NCCT platforms, however, means that a Rivet Joint, a Guardrail, and a U-2S would all detect the same SOI, and, within seconds, triangulate its precise location and relay that to the CAOC and national targeting agencies.

[…]

Among the latest upgrades to the Rivet Joint fleet is the FAB-T, a ‘second-generation terminal’ system capable of passing low-rate data between air and ground assets. […] First tested in 2011 on NC-135W 61-2666, the FAB-T allowed the rivet joint to connect with a MILSTAR satellite and then transmit data and voice communication with a ground facility. Since then, the data transmission rate has increased, allowing a ‘more secure communication capability to deliver much higher quantities of actionable intelligence products into the hands of the warfighter.’”

A RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing prepares to move onto the runway before a mission Oct. 21, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The RC-135 Rivet Joint is a reconnaissance aircraft that supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene electronic warfare support, intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson/Released)

A RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing prepares to move onto the runway before a mission Oct. 21, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The RC-135 Rivet Joint is a reconnaissance aircraft that supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene electronic warfare support, intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson/Released)

Islamic State fighters rely heavily on commercial radios and cell phones; they use Internet and send emails from their mobile devices, and aircraft from the various services continuously work to intercept all these signals and, if needed, make such communication impossible (by disturbing the comms or attacking the cell towers).

And, sometimes, based on data collected and disseminated by Rivet Joints, “kinetic Electronic Attack platforms” are called in to target high value individuals, preventing them from dispatching orders to other militants. By jamming their cell phones with high-power signals or the old way: by dropping actual ordnance on them (a role that can be fullfilled not only by mission-purpose aircraft or an F-16CJ “Wild Weasel” but also by a more “conventional” bomber.)

As probably done last year by a VAQ-137 Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet (that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service), embarked on USS Theodore Roosevelt supporting OIR that sported the unequivocal High Value Individual cell phone-jamming kill mark.

By the way, VMAQ-2 “Playboys” are currently involved in a 6-month tour of duty started in October, when the unit replaced another Marine Corps squadron, the VMAQ-4 “Seahawks” (that were spotted at Lajes airfield, Portugal, showing some interesting mission markings and insignia on their way back to the U.S.)

 

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U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers (including one with stunning sharkmouth) return to the U.S. after fighting Daesh from Turkey

EA-6Bs with interesting markings returning to the U.S. after flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

On Oct. 7, six EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft belonging to the VMAQ-4 “Seahawks” of the U.S. Marine Corps landed at Lajes airfield, Portugal.

As the images in this post, taken by our friends at APS- Associação Portugal Spotters, show the Prowlers got some interesting markings and insigna, including a pretty cool and usual Sharkmouth.

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163398/RM06 USMC badge on rudder using radio callsign “Tabor86”
163047/RM007 “Agent 007” callsign “Tabor84”
163527/RM “Q4” callsign “Tabor83”
161885/RM09 “Shark`s teeth” callsign “Tabor82”
163031/RM08 “Jam this” callsign “Tabor81”
162936/RM05 callsign “Tabor85”

Tanker support was provided by KC135R 62-3518 “Spirit of kokomo” from AF reserve at Grissom ARB, Indiana.

The aircraft were returning from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, from where they have supported Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Syria and Iraq since April.

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EA-6Bs are among the most important assets in the air war against Daesh: they eavesdrop “enemy” radio signals and jam those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone, or use portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

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The ageing Prowlers are being replaced by the Boeing EA-18G Growler, an Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet that already replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service.

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Image credit: APS- Associação Portugal Spotters

 

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Unique photo shows U.S. Navy Growler with High Value Individual cell phone-jamming kill mark

U.S. Navy Growlers jam High Value Targets/Individuals’ cell phones.

The image in this post shows the nose of a VAQ-137 EA-18G Growler aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Interestingly, the aircraft sports a quite unique kill marking, showing a person “hit” by a lightning bolt.

According to our sources, this is the kill mark applied when the Growler is used in an operation during which it jams cell comms or pick up cell comms and that person is targeted.

All the other “standard” lighting bolts are for generic Electronic Attack support: usually, jamming during ops when F/A-18s are dropping ordnance.

But the cell phone one is very specific to targeting a High Value Target or other individual with a cell or cell-jamming over an area. Ordnance is often employed in this context.

The Boeing EA-18G Growler is an Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service.

Along with actively jamming enemy communications, the Growler, operating in a networked environment along with other two aircraft of the same type (needed for triangulation), can use its EW pods to geo-locate a signal source and target it from stand-off distance with air-to-surface missiles.

Image credit: Marc Garlasco

This Infographic Provides Lots of Details about Russia’s S-400 Advanced Air Defense Systems allegedly deployed to Syria

S-400 Triumph explained.

Some photographs published by Russia’s Ministry of Defense seem to suggest Moscow has just deployed at least one S-400 missile battery to Latakia, to protect the Russian air contingent deployed there.

Although the reports that the next-generation anti-aircraft weapon system was deployed to Syria were denied by the Russian MoD, whether the Russians have really deployed the system to protect their assets at Latakia or not is still subject to debate.

The Russian MoD image shows what looks like a 96L6 radar. However, according to Air Power Australia’s Dr Carlo Kopp “The 96L6 is the standard battery acquisition radar in the S-400 / SA-21 system, and is available as a retrofit for the S-300PM/PMU/PMU1 and S-300PMU2 Favorit / SA-20 Gargoyle as a substitute for the legacy acquisition radars.”

Considered that the presence of the S-400 has been officially denied, provided the one depicted in the photos is really a 96L6 radar, it may be deployed to support something else.

But let’s have a look at an interesting infographic that provides some details about the S-400.

Designated SA-21 “Growler” by NATO, the S-400 is believed to be able to engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft (someone says even VLO – Very Low Observable ones), drones and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 250 miles at an altitude of nearly 19 miles. Equipped with 3 different types of missiles and an acquisition radar capable of tracking up to 300 targets within the range of over 370 miles, the Triumph (or Triumf) is a system made of 8 launchers and a control station.

Supported by effective EW (Electronic Warfare) capabilities, the S-400 fires missiles that fly at 17,000 km/h against aerial targets: at least on paper, all non-stealth planes (including 4+ Generation planes)  will hardly be able to dodge them.

This means that all but U.S. F-22s and B-2s would be threatened by such an advanced air defense system over Syria (and in nearby airspaces).

That said, you can clearly understand why U.S., Israel and NATO are worried that the S-400 (or even S-300) can make their way to Syria (and Iran).

S-400 infographic

Image credit: Sputnik News

Singapore’s F-16s and F-15SGs at Nellis Air Force Base for Red Flag 14-3

Among the aircraft deployed to Nellis Air Force Base for the Red Flag 14-3 last summer, were the Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SGs, and F-16s. All painted with various special designs on the tails.

Red Flag exercises always offer a good opportunity to see U.S. stealth planes, Aggressors, heavy bombers, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) and Electronic Warfare aircraft, take off or land at Nellis Air Force Base, or engage one another inside the Nevada Test and Training Center.

Along with the American hi-tech combat planes and the supporting planes, Red Flags attract many interesting foreign participants.

F-15SG. 05-0030:MO 428FS. Rep SNG AF. recovers to Nellis 17.07.2014

The 14-3 edition held last summer featured, among all the others, even the RSAF F-16s and F-15SG currently working and training with the 56 FW at Luke AFB, Arizona, and the 366th FW at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

F-16D. 94-0283:LF. 425FS. Rep Singapore AF. Recovers to Nellis AFB. 17.07.2014

Four of these combat planes sported special tails.

F-16C. 97-0112:LF. 425 FS. Rep Singapore AF

The images in this post were shot by The Aviationist’s photographer Tony Lovelock in July, as the aircraft recovered to Nellis at the end of their RF 14-3 missions.

05-0005:428 FS-MO. F-15SG. Republic Singapore Air Force. Nellis AFB. 17.07.2014

96-5034:LF. F-16D. 425 FS. Rep Singapore Air Force. "Merlion". 20th Anniversary markings

96-5035:LF. F-16D. 425FS. Republic of Singapore Air Force. Nellis AFB. 17.07.2014

F-16C. 94-0273:LF. 425FS. Rep Singapore AF

Even this RSAF Chinook was deployed to Nellis AFB.

88182. CH-47. Rep Singapoe AF. Red Flag 14-3. Nellis AFB. 17.07.2014

Image credit: Tony Lovelock