Tag Archives: Eurofighter Typhoon

KC-130J: a tactical gas station in the sky. Serving fighters, bombers, choppers. And maybe even F-35s sometime in the future.

On Jan. 10, I had the opportunity to take part to a refueling mission of a KC-130J of the 46^ Aerobrigata (Air Brigade) of the Italian Air Force involving several combat planes. The tanker version of the Super Hercules launched from Pisa to refuel its receivers in a reserved airspace located above the Adriatic Sea, off Cervia airport.

Along with the KC-767A, the strategic tanker asset of the Italian Air Force, the KC-130J was extensively used during the Air War in Libya refueling all the Italian planes supporting NATO’s Operation Unfied Protector: Eurofighter Typhoons, Tornado IDSs and ECRs, and AMXs.

The same types that were refueled using the two wing-mounted hose and drogue pods during the mission I was invited to attend, as the small selection (of thousand images) below shows.

Considered its speed and ceiling, the aircraft is perfectly suitable for Helicopter Air to Air Refuelling (HAAR) and the Italian KC-130J has already been certified with the EH-101 Merlin and the French Air Force Eurocopter EC-725 ‘Super-Cougar’ (Caracal).

The Italian KC-130Js are identical to those of the USMC that, along with the already served F-18, AV-8B and V-22, have performed some plugs with the Lockheed Martin F-35B, the stealthy 5th generation combat plane, expected to replace the Marine’s Hornets and Harriers. Actually, the F-35B was expected to be ordered by the Italian Air Force and Navy, the latter to replace the AV-8B Harrier on board the Cavour aircraft carrier.

However, if not compelled to quit, Italy will probably reduce the expected number of ordered JSF, from 131 to no more than 100, as a consequence of the Defense spending review that will soon follow the austerity measures already approved by the “technocratic” Monti Cabinet.

Although the outcome of the Defense Review is almost unpredictable, a plausible hypothesis sees the Italian Air Force receiving about 80 F-35s (A and B variants) and the Navy 20 F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) combat planes.

In this case, there are some stealthy interesting receivers in the future of the KC-130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea.

Above image: Lockheed Martin

F-35 targeted in potential military cuts. If Italy quits, will the stealth plane ever be affordable?

With a new set of austerity measures aimed at saving up to $25 billion to balance the budget by 2013 (and avoid a catastrophic default that would put the entire Euro-zone at risk) just approved, Italy could be soon compelled to review many of its future defense projects.

Even if the new Defense Minister, Adm. Di Paola pointed to a significant cut in terms of personnel, as the most important measure to preserve Italy’s capability to sustain current projects as well as internal and foreign missions, the amount of lawmakers among all political forces who advocate further weapon cuts has grown in the last few days.

The priority targets for cuts this days have been already identified: the Lockheed Martin F-35, that the Italian Air Force and Navy would like to use to replace the AMX, the Tornado and the AV-8B+ Harrier fleets (in other words, the only air-to-surface assets Italy can employ in Crisis Support Operations); and the Cavour, the second and most modern Italian aircraft carrier destined to be equipped with the much troubled F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off and Vertical Landing) version of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Dealing with the F-35, Italy has planned a purchase of 131 F-35s, worth about 15 billion Euro. Of those, 20-22 are supposed to be the Harrier replacement on the Cavour while the rest should be conventional A planes. The Air Force is interested in both the A and B version.

Both right and left-wing parties are becoming more critical about Italy’s involvement in the F-35 program arguing that the stealth fighter is a waste of money for a country on the verge of financial collapse. In their opinion, Italy should leave the program and lose the 2.5 billion Euro already invested in the development to save the 13 needed for production. Furthermore, “Italy is not about to attack anyone”, hence there is no need for such an expensive defense investment.

More or less the same words were used to criticize the aircraft carrier, that costs the Italian taxpayers 100,000 Euro each day (when docked; 200,000 Euro/day when on cruise).

For sure, the F-35 is a costly and uncertain program. However, some of its problems and delays deals with the advanced technology that this innovative aircraft integrates. Hence,  the decision to quit the program should be weighed heavily. If this aircraft survives, it will be the backbone of the U.S. attack fleet, replacing several aircraft types; if Italy confirms its involvement procuring “some” F-35s, it will have the opportunity to develop, operate and evaluate the future most advanced (and costly) combat plane.

Sooner or later Italy will be compelled to replace its ageing fleet of attack planes. Even if one of the Lessons Identified in Libya was the need for a light and cheap aircraft like the AMX to sustain long lasting air wars, current planes can’t live forever nor can be continuously upgraded to keep them in service for 3 or 4 decades.

When the moment arrives, there won’t be many options. One of them is using an upgraded Typhoon, a multirole non-stealth fighter plane of the so-called 4+ generation that, when required to replace the above mentioned Italian attack planes, will have to face 5th if not 6th generation manned and unmanned stealth fighters made of morphing metals and flight surfaces featuring some Star Wars-like equipment.

Nor the problem of replacing the Harriers on the Cavour should be underestimated. Since all the former RAF jump jets were purchased by the USMC, there will be few options if Italy quits: either second or third-hand AV-8Bs or a navalised Typhoon like the one offered to India (provided this version will ever be developed and compatible with the Italian ship).

Above all, Italy should remember how much the decision to keep the F-104 in service for 40 years has cost to the Italian Air Force, equipped with a jurassic fighter almost useless in real operations not even capable to ensure an effective air defense service at home. When it became evident that the amazing Starfighter could not be updated any more two gap fillers had to be hired until the Eurofighter Typhoon became available. A costly and painful move.

Although it’s still unclear whether Italy will simply downsize its procurement or withdraw from the program, what’s certain is that every canceled Italian plane will increase the costs of the remainder making their unit price if not unaffordable, less affordable.

Unit price depends also on the foreign sales. U.S. have commitments from allies to buy as many as 500 jets. Moreover, Japan has selected the F-35 as the future F-X and Lockheed Martin will build 42 stealth planes for the JASDF, a breath of fresh air that would be completely wiped out by an Italian withdrawal.

The Economist has already warned that the program is in danger of slipping into the “death spiral” where increasing unit costs would lead to cuts in number of ordered plane, leading to further costs that would boost order cuts.

In the meanwhile, the average price of each plane in “then-year” dollars has risen from $69m in 2001 to $133 million in 2011, a price that has been already declared unaffordable by Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Ashton Carter who talked to the Senate Armed Services committee in May 2011.

Image source: Lockheed Martin

Typhoons over the Negev: the Italian Air Force and the Israeli Air Force in Exercise "Desert Dusk"

Updated Dec. 25 10.30 GMT

From Dec. 5 to 15, Tornado ECR of the 50° Stormo and Eurofighter F-2000A Typhoon of the 4° and 36° Stormo of the Italian Air Force deployed to Uvda airbase, in Israel, for the Exercise “Desert Dusk”, a small-scale joint exercise with the Israeli Air Force involving 25 planes.

During their 2-week stay, the Italian fighters that have taken part to the Operation Unified Protector in Libya (the ECR as a SEAD asset, the Typhoon flying both in the air defense and in the air-to-surface role – the latter flown only by RAF planes), accompanied by 150 military, launched 100 sorties, including some COMAOs (Composite Air Operations), that gave the Italian pilots (and for the very first time, the Typhoon fleet, that had not taken part to the first deployment in Israel in 2010) to train in high-lethality scenarios, testing the capabilities of the squadrons to deploy “out-of-area” with the support of the KC-767A and the C-130J.

These exercises allow crews to refine procedures and techniques and develop procedural standards that are extremely important to operate in Crisis Support Operations launched in an international cooperation framework.

According to the news release published on the IAF website, during the first week, the Italian flew an exercise with the 115 Sqn “Flying Dragon”, equipped with F-16A “Netz” which specializes in enemy simulation and in the second, they were joined by the 69 Sqn “Hammers”  from “Hatzerim” airbase equipped with F-15I “Ra’am” and the110 Sqn “Knights of the North” from “Ramat-David” airbase flying the F-16C “Barak”.

The “Desert Dusk” came few weeks after the Israeli Air Force F-16s deployed to Decimomannu, in Sardinia, for the Exercise Vega 2011, and in a period of growing tension in the area, caused by the capture in Iran of a U.S. stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone involved in a spy mission on the Iranian nuke program.

Actually, the news of the first Typhoon deployment in Israel came in the same days Eurofigher lost the F-X competition in Japan where the MoD announced the decision to purchase the much troubled and costly Lockheed Martin F-35 as next generation fighter plane for the JASDF. Once again (as in Swiss fighter competition won by the Gripen), a political choice rather than a decision based on merit /capability to meet requirements.

Below you can find some images of the exercise published on the IAF website. Many more interesting pictures can be found here.

Image credit: Israeli Air Force website

Winter Hide 2011 at Grosseto

After publishing the first images of the RDAF (Royal Danish Air Force) F-16s deploying to Grosseto in a previous article, on Feb. 7, 2011, I visited Grosseto airbase to see the Danish F-16AM and BM MLU (Mid-Life Update) of the Esk 727 and 730 from Skrydstrup operating with the Eurofighter Typhoons (both F-2000A and TF-2000A, according to the Italian Mission Design Series) of the local-based 4° Stormo.

The RDAF detachment (100 military) is currently hosted in the north part of the airport, where the WH11 liaison cell is also settled. The 11 aircraft are parked in the apron in front of the Hangar 3 of the GEA (Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili), west of the RWY21 threshold.

The MLUs of the Fighter Wing Skrydstrup are multi-role fighters assigned to the Nato High Readiness Force (HRF) hence they are flying different types of training sorties: air-to-air (mainly with the Italian F-2000s); air-to-ground (with Danish and Italian ground forces), flying low-level in Central Italy; and also COMAOs (Combined Air Operations) like those conducted in the operational areas east of Sardinia with the 48FW F-15E of the 494th FS deployed to Decimomannu until Feb. 4.

Usually two waves are scheduled each day: at 10:45LT and 14:15LT. A third one is planned a couple of days a week for night flying (with departures at around 17:15LT).

Most of the aircraft deployed to Grosseto carry the LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) and the AIM-9X coupled with the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System). Noteworthy, lthe Danish MLUs are equipped with a search light, mounted on the port side of the fuselage beneath the canopy, used for the identification during interception at night, much similar to that of the Italian F-16 ADF.

Below are some pictures of the detachment, that will last until Feb. 11, 2011, when the F-16s are due to return to their homebase.

Wittmund: home of the last GAF Phantoms

Located in the northern part of Germany, Wittmundhafen (or Wittmund) is the homebase of the Jagdgeschwader 71 (JG71) equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F-4F Phantom. The unit, that made its last detachment in Decimomannu last Sept. (read: Ciao German Phantoms!) and is named “Richthofen” after the WWI German ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the “Red Baron”, is the last German wing equipped with the F-4s, since the Luftwaffe is in the process of replace the “Rhinos” with the Eurofighter Typhoon. Being scheduled for 2011 the withdrawal of the type from service, Giovanni Maduli went to Wittmund to report about the operations of the last German Phantoms.
Here’s a preview of the report. All the images are available here: http://lowpassage.com/2010/12/28/wittmund/