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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It looks like the controversial F-35 is holding its own at Red Flag exercise underway at Nellis AFB.
As of Feb. 3 the F-35A had achieved a quite impressive score during Red Flag 17-1, the U.S. Air Force’s premier air combat exercise underway at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that pits “Blue Air” (friendly forces) against “Red Air” (enemy) in an all-out air war featuring air-to-air, air-to-ground, search and rescue, and special forces elements.
According to the pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill AFB, Utah, who deployed the F-35A Lightning II to the airbase off Las Vegas on Jan. 20 and began flying in the exercise Jan. 23, the type, at its debut in the world’s most realistic and challenging exercise, has achieved a 15:1 kill ratio against the Aggressors, F-16s that replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignia of their near peer adversaries and whose role is to threaten strike packages in the same way a modern enemy would do in a real war.
F-35A Lightning IIs piloted by the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings prepare to depart Hill AFB, Utah, Jan. 20 for Nellis AFB, Nev., to participate in a Red Flag exercise. Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise. This is the first deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
Well, after eight days “at war”, in spite of being “just” IOC (Initial Operational Capable – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be an “invaluable asset” during Red Flag 17-01, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada: its ability to gather, fuse, and distribute more information than any other fighter in history provide the pilot with vital situational awareness that can be exploited to escape (and engage?) highly sophisticated and lethal enemy ground threats and interceptors.
Actually, the extent of the F-22 Raptors contribution to the above mentioned kill ratio is not clear: the F-35s are flying alongside Raptors and, as one might expect, the F-22s take care of the aggressors whilst the F-35s slip undetected through the surface-to-air defenses until it reaches the position to drop munitions at the target.
Considered that the F-22s are providing air cover to the Lightning IIs, is the 15:1 score a team result or the actual kill ratio of the F-35A?
“The first day we were here, we flew defensive counter-air and we didn’t lose a single friendly aircraft,” Lt. Col George Watkins, an F-35 pilot and 34th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a release. “That’s unheard of,” he added.
With the F-35A, pilots can gather and fuse data from a multitude of sources and use the jet’s advanced sensors to precisely pinpoint a threat. Then they can take it out with one 2,000 pounds bomb. It would be impossible for a fourth-generation aircraft to survive such a mission, according to Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis, F-35 pilot and commander of the 419 Operations Group, Detachment 1.
As of last Thursday, Hill’s Airmen have generated 110 sorties (with 13 aircraft), including their first 10-jet F-35A sortie Jan. 30 and turned around and launched eight jets that afternoon. They have not lost a single sortie to a maintenance issue and have a 92 percent mission-capable rate, said 1st Lt. Devin Ferguson, assistant officer in charge of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. Legacy aircraft average 70 to 85 percent mission-capable, according to the U.S. Air Force.
An F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off from Nellis AFB, Nev., Feb. 2, during Red Flag 17-01. This is the first F-35A deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
Starting in 2017, Australia will host U.S. military aircraft, including F-22 Raptors, to maintain a “credible combat power” in the region and send a convincing message to potential aggressors.
The Royal Australian Air Force will start joint training with U.S. F-22 Raptor aircraft over Australian territory next year.
This is one of the effects of the agreement signed by Adm. Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Australian defense head Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.
Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Harris said that the U.S. and Australia “are exploring greater integration of fifth generation fighter deployments to Australia and plan to see significant activities in 2017.”
Since the F-22 is the only fifth generation fighter already in service in good numbers, the U.S. Air Force has a plan “to bring down some F-22s to work with Australia to demonstrate the airplane and some of the unique maintenance and other aspects of fifth generation airframes,” Harris said.
Although Raptors have already visited Australia in the past to attend airshows, the announced deployment of the world’s most advanced multi-role aircraft in the north of the country would also have a deterrence purpose: according to Harris, maintaining a “credible combat power” in the region will send a convincing message to potential aggressors.
The presence of F-22s in northern Australia follows similar deployments to Japan: the USAF has started rotating fighters to Pacific Command bases in March 2004 “to maintain a prudent deterrent against threats to regional security and stability” and in January 2016 a dozen Raptors were deployed to Yokota, near Tokyo, to “promote” stability following North Korea’s nuclear test.
The deployment of a handful of stealth jets some 2,000 nautical miles from the South China Sea is rather symbolic unless it is considered as the part of a wider military build-up around the troubled waters of the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater.
On Aug. 9, 2016 three B-2 Spirit bombers with the 509th Bomb Wing, have deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, to conduct extended deterrence operations in the region. B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews) have also been deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission
U.S. Navy aircraft carriers regularly conduct dual carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific and sometimes also in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea. Last June, two nuclear-powered flattops operated simultaneously in the area, working also alongside two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress (bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam in a maritime attack training sortie. In the same period, Washington also deployed to the Philippines the first temporary detachment of Navy EA-18G Growlers with the ability to perform both electronic escort missions on U.S. ships and spyplanes frequently shadowed by Chinese spyplanes or intelligence gathering ships and Electronic Attack missions against Chinese radars on the disputed islands.