Tag Archives: F-22 Raptor

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.

 

Salva

Combined Force of 4 F-15s and 4 F-22s achieves 41-1 kill ratio against 14 “Red Air” fighters at WSEP

A mix of Raptors and Eagles can be pretty deadly, even if outnumbered by enemy fighters.

More than 250 airmen and 9 F-15 Eagle jets from the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, deployed to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, for the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP).

Known also as “Combat Archer”, WSEP is an air-to-air exercise hosted by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group  to improve air-to-air tactics and practice weapons systems employment: fighter pilots rarely get a chance to fire live missiles, WSEP exercises are almost always the first and only opportunity to use live air-to-air weapons and validate their shots.

“The WSEP does two things,” said Col. Jeffrey Rivers, Commander of the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron, Weapons Systems Evaluation Program in a U.S. Air Force release. “It feeds Combat Air Force’s (CAF) training and readiness. We get air crew experience for the first time subsequent to the events, sounds, sights, smells, and noise of a real missile coming off the jet in a realistic scenario they would find normally in training but now it is with real weapons and real targets to shoot at.”

Missiles used in Combat Archer tests usually don’t carry a warhead, replaced by telemetry packages. The AAM are shot over the Gulf of Mexico at various types of drone targets (including the MQM-107D Streaker and the unmanned aerial targets such as the QF-4 recently retired).

During WSEP, the Massachusetts ANG’s Eagle jets flew 212 sorties out of 221 sorties and successfully fired 14,661 bullets at WSEP, totaling 100 percent of the guns on the aircraft firing every time as well as 17 missiles obtaining a mission capable rate of 83%.

“Our deployment to Tyndall really had two different but complimentary themes,” said Col. William Bladen, 104th Fighter Wing, Operations Group Commander. “The WSEP portion focused on exercising and testing the kill chain from the missile build all the way through its destruction of a target. It takes several miracles for a missile to complete an intercept. […] The second piece of the deployment was large force exercises and 4-ship training which is the core fighting force in the Eagle. With several other fighter airframes on the Gulf Coast, we were able to put together daily outnumbered scenarios that we cannot produce up here at Barnes. The last day of the trip we flew 4 F-15s and 4 F-22s against 14 “red air” fighters. For our training, we allowed the red air to regenerate after being killed by a blue air fighter. The final results of that mission: Blue Air killed 41 enemy aircraft and lost just one. While pretty phenomenal, perfection is our goal so the debrief focused on how we could have had a 41-0 ratio.”

Pretty impressive, even though, as always, we don’t know anything about the ROE (Rules Of Engagement), the scenarios, the threat profile, the simulated loadout etc. In this case, we don’t even know the type of adversaries the Eagle/Raptor flight had to fight nor how America’s two premiere fighters cooperated to shoot down all the enemies in the simulated engagements.

Kill ratios attributed to both single types or combined forces always seem to suggest there were direct engagements WVR (Within Visual Range). However, BVR (Beyond Visual Range) aerial combat is probably more likely in future air wars where air dominance has not been clearly established. As proved by what we have witnessed in the Nevada desert during Red Flag 17-2

During WSEP, mixing the deadly ability of the stealthy F-22s to gather, fuse, and distribute information to provide the Counter Air forces with vital situational awareness that could be exploited to engage highly sophisticated aerial threats, with the air superiority capabilities of the un-stealthy F-15s, equipped with powerful Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars proved to be pretty effective.

As said we don’t know anything about the assets that were defeated during the mock air combat at WSEP. “On the ramp at Tyndall Air Force Base alongside 104th Fighter Wing Eagles, were Canadian CF-18s, F-35s, F-16s, and F-22s,” says the U.S. Air Force release. Some of these might were probably part of the Red Air.

Top image: file photo of a U.S. Air Force F-22 and F-15, 104th Fighter Wing, flying together during Cope Taufan 14 exercise.

 

All U.S. F/A-18 Hornet models affected by oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression issues

Legacy and Super Hornet showing a concerning steady increase in “physiological episodes” that U.S. Navy calls “No.1 safety issue.”

The F/A-18 Hornets of all variants seems to be affected by a serious issue: oxygen shortage, or hypoxia, is plaguing the fleet of Legacy (A/B/C/D), Super Hornet (E/F) and Growler (EA-18G).

As reported by Bloomberg News, the F/A-18 of all models have shown a steady yearly increases of what the Navy calls “physiological episodes” due to oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression since May 1, 2010.

Navy officials testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee called the problem the “No.1 safety issue.”

And what is even more concerning is the fact that there seem to be little clue as to what is causing the issue.

The “lack of overall progress” is “of great concern,” said Representative Niki Tsongas, the top Democrat in the panel.

While investigating the issue (with a task force of 62 people), the U.S. Navy has also enhanced “reduced-oxygen training” so that pilots can quickly identify the symptoms of hypoxia. Two aircraft carriers have installed chambers for aircrews exposed to decompression.

According to Bloomberg News, 130 out of 383 episodes “have involved some form of contamination,” according to a Navy and U.S. Marine Corps official statement. 114 involved an environmental control system component failure, 91 involved “human factors” and 50 concerned a component failure with the on-board oxygen generating system.

Older versions of the plane, the A through D models, have problems with cabin pressure whereas the Super Hornet and Growler issues “would appear to point to the onboard oxygen generating” system to which the Navy’ has already made changes.

It’s not clear whether the issue affects also other international Hornet operators.

Not the first time

This is not the first time the U.S. forces face the oxygen deprivation issue.

A similar problem plagued the F-22 Raptor fleet to such an extent the radar-evading aircraft were grounded back in 2011 following a deadly incident involving an Alaska-based stealth jets.

In that period, the F-22 were experiencing 26.43 instances of hypoxia or “hypoxia-like” problems for every 100,000 flight hours, compared to 2.34 instances per 100,000 hours for the F-15E and 2.96 for the latest version of the F-16 (the Hornet was not part of the data set released back then.)

After lifting the flight ban, the Pentagon restricted Air Force Raptors to fly near a “proximate landing location” in order to give pilots the possibility to land quickly if their planes’ On Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) failed.

In May 2012, two 1st Fighter Wing “whistleblowers” appeared on CBS 60 minutes to explain why they were “uncomfortable” flying the Raptor (before changing idea few days later).

The flying branch eventually determined a valve that regulated oxygen flow into the Raptor pilot’s pressure vest was too weak and F-22s were given a new backup oxygen system as part of multiple contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin (worth 30 Million USD) that automatically dispenses oxygen when OBOGS is not providing enough. 

Various problems

The news that all the kind of Hornets might be choking their pilots comes in the wake of a Super Hornet and Growler fleet-wide grounding and (concerning but for the moment totally unrelated) increase in crash rate, especially among the oldest models.

Nine incidents involved “Legacy Hornets” (including the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the second half of last year, with the latest loss on Dec. 6, 2016, when a USMC F/A-18C crashed off Kochi causing the loss of its pilot.

In the wake of the Hornet crashes from June through October, the U.S. Marine Corps temporarily grounded its non-deployed Hornets. Unfortunately, few days after the ban was lifted, two more F/A-18Cs were lost.

The crash rate has affected the ability of the USMC to perform training activities while committing to support real operations: out of a requirement for 171 aircraft, the service had only 85 Hornets available for training according to a report emerged last year.

In order to address the shortage of operational fighters the Marine Corps has launched a plan to upgrade 30 retired legacy Hornets (currently stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona) to a standard dubbed F/A-18C+: once upgraded these “gap fillers” should be more than enough to conduct combat operations in low-lethality scenarios like those that see the USMC at work lately. Still, they might not have a fix for the hypoxia issue.

“Trump’s favorite jet”

As a side note, in their story on Bloomberg News, Roxana Tiron and Anthony Capaccio call the Hornet “Trump’s favorite fighter jet.”

This is due to the fact that Trump has been advocating the Super Hornet since December 2016, when the then president-elect posted a pretty famous tweet that favored the Boeing combat plane over the Lockheed Martin F-35C.

 

 

Salva

Salva

Salva

Watch an MC-130J Commando II refuel two F-22 Raptor jets, on the ground, at a Forward Air Refueling Point

Did you know F-22 Raptor stealth jets can be refueled by a Special Operations MC-130J tanker on the ground?

The following video shows Forward air refueling point airmen with the 1st Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron conduct a FARP operation at Hurlburt Field, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2017.

The FARP program is a Special Operations Command initiative that trains petroleum, oils and lubrication airmen to perform covert, nighttime refueling operations in deployed locations where fueling stations are not accessible or when air-to-air refueling is not possible.

Actually, the exercise proves a refueler equipped with the hose and drogue system can refuel an aircraft that has no IFR (In Flight Refueling) probe but uses the flying boom AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) system: in this case three F-22 Raptors assigned to the 95th Fighter squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida., received fuel from an MC-130J Commando II tanker assigned to the 9th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB, N.M..

Although the stealth jets use a dorsal receptacle they were refueled, on the ground, by a MC-130J that would have been unable to refuel the jets mid-air, being equipped with the hose-and-drogue system that requires a probe like that used by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps jets.

FARPs provide the ability to ensure an aircraft’s global reach capabilities are met to accomplish the mission.

Red Flag 17-1 Combat Exercise Near Las Vegas: a Paradise for Aircraft Spotters.

Huge Variety of International Tactical and Support Aircraft Invade Nellis AFB for Realistic Exercise

The ramp at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada has been a paradise for aircraft spotters since the beginning of the Red Flag 17-1 large-scale training exercise last week.

The Red Flag exercises at Nellis are planned and executed by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center. The exercises simulate actual combat scenarios in regions around the world. A key component of the Red Flag training exercises are practice in integrating air assets from international air forces so they can accomplish a high degree of interoperability in an actual combat situation, wherever it may happen around the world.

Red Flag training scenarios frequently involve the delivery of live, full-scale air to ground weaponry on secure ranges in Nevada. The participants must “fight” their way into the target area, execute the planned strike, and egress the contested airspace.

While air-to-air engagements are fought using a variety of simulation technologies some air-to-ground exercises use live weapons such as bombs and air to ground missiles. At least one aircraft in videos emerged so far was carrying live anti-radiation air-to-ground missiles used for engaging surface-to-air missile (SAM) threats.

A maintainer assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing conducts preflight checks on an F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 24, 2017. The F-35A is one of two U.S. Air Force fifth generation multi-role fighter aircraft participating in 17-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

The list of aircraft at this Red Flag exercise, named “Red Flag 17-1” as the number “1” Red Flag of the year 20”17”, hence “17-1”, is truly remarkable: USAF B-1 Lancer heavy bombers, EC-130 Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, E-8 Joint STARs surveillance aircraft, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II and F-15 Eagle fighters from the USAF, KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft, E-7 aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force, Typhoon FGR4 aircraft from the RAF among others.

This is the first deployment to a Red Flag exercise for the U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II, these from Hill AFB, and the first large deployment to an exercise since the F-35 was declared combat ready in August 2016. As already explained in a previous post, teaming up with the Raptors, the Lightning IIs have so far achieved a striking 15:1 kill ratio with the Aggressors F-16s.

U.S. Air Force Colonel Dave Smith, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing, the F-35 wing deployed to Red Flag 17-1, told media, “Red Flag is hands-down the best training in the world to ensure our Airmen are fully mission ready. It’s as close to combat operations as you can get.”

There are four Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB each year with each one providing different combat simulation exercises as well as a unique opportunity for aviation enthusiasts to catch some incredible photos and videos of the aircraft launching and recovering at the airbase off Las Vegas.

Enjoy this cool video of the air ops at Nellis during a Red Flag.

 

Salva