Tag Archives: F-22

U.S. F-22 Raptors Forward Deploy To Albacete Air Base For The Very First Time To Train With The Spanish Typhoons and Hornets

Here are some interesting details about the Advanced Aerial Training exercise that took place at Albacete Air Base, Spain, last week.

On Aug. 16, 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, conducted the Raptor’s first forward deployment to Albacete, Spain.

The 5th generation aircraft, launched from  Spangdahlem, Germany, where they are currently deployed as part of a contingent of 12 F-22s, were refuelled in front of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast (Area D21) by a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135, radio callsign QID 424, out of RAF Mildenhall and then headed towards Area D98 for the dogfight with the Spanish Eurofighters and F-18 Hornets.

Accompanied by a Typhoon, the F-22 approaches the break overhead Albacete (All photos: Jorge Portales).

According to the Spanish Aviation Journalist and Photographer Jorge Portalés Alberola there were 2 different WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfights: the first one was a 1 vs 2 between an F-22 and 2x Eurofighters from Ala 14 based at Albacete; the second one involved the other Raptor and one F-18 Hornet from Ala 12 (122 Squadron) – actually this second aerial engagement was slated to be a 1 vs 2 scenario but one of the Hornets aborted.

F-22 touches down at Albacete.

For the Spanish Air Force, this exercise represented an excellent opportunity for instruction and training that allows a joint assessment of the capabilities of the three aircraft in a demanding tactical environment. It also improves the integration and interoperability of 5th generation aircraft such as the American F22 with rest of allied fighters. And, in some way, it prepares Albacete, home of the Tactical Leadership Program, to the first attendance by a 5th Generation aircraft: the F-35A. Indeed, the Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter plane that will enter service has already entered the active service (or will, in the next years) with several European air forces: Italy, UK, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands (and Turkey?) so it is logical that it participates in the TLP training missions.

F-22 on the ramp at Los Llanos airport in Albacete.

This year, the F-35 will take part in the TLP for the first time as the course moves for an iteration to Amendola, Italy, home of the Italian Lightnings. Beginning from the end of 2019, it is already planned for the 5th generation aircraft to take part in “standard” TLP courses held at Albacete.

H/T to Jorge Portalés Alberola for providing many details and all the photographs used for this story!

Lockheed Martin to Propose 5th Gen F-22/F-35 Hybrid to Japan.

New Proposed Stealth Hybrid Fighter to Expand Japanese Fighter Capability. Re-opening the F-22 Production Line might be an option too.

Late Friday, April 20, Reuters journalists Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo reported that Lockheed Martin will propose a new 5th generation low-observable (stealth) combat aircraft to Japan. According to Kelly and Kubo’s article, the two sources who provided the information to Reuters have direct knowledge of the upcoming proposal.

According to the sources with direct knowledge of the program quoted in the April 20 Reuters story, “Lockheed has discussed the idea with Japanese defense ministry officials and will make a formal proposal in response to a Japanese request for information (RFI) after it receives permission from the U.S. government to offer the sensitive military technology.”

Reuters quoted one of the two unnamed sources as telling them, “The proposed aircraft would combine the F-22 and F-35 and could be superior to both of them.”

The F-22 Raptor is only used by the United States Air Force and is not exported because some of its capabilities remain a national security asset. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was originally conceived as an export project to provide cost sharing and capability commonality between partner nations as a force multiplier.

The new Japanese aircraft to be proposed by Lockheed Martin will be an air superiority aircraft with a similar role to the F-22 Raptor.

The Japanese rolled out their first domestically built F-35A Joint Strike Fighter from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki South F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility on June 5, 2017. Lockheed Martin built four of the first Japanese F-35s in the U.S. and delivered them to Japan. The remaining 38 of 42 total F-35As Japan has planned will be built at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki South facility. Mitsubishi was the builder of the famous A6M Zero fighter used in WWII.

The Reuters report about the new Lockheed Martin proposal is set alongside the existing Japanese Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin design originally designated the ATD-X for “Advanced Technology Demonstrator – X”. This aircraft bears a strong resemblance to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, using the same basic overall configuration. The ATD-X/X-2 Shinshin is a two-seat experimental aircraft whereas the F-22 and F-35 are only single seat aircraft. Only one X-2 Shinshin has been produced by Japan as a technology testbed. It first flew on April 22, 2016.

The reports of the new upcoming proposal from Lockheed Martin could suggest that Japan is considering abandoning its own indigenous fifth generation air superiority development program in favor of a design from another country. One stipulation reported by the source who spoke to Reuters was that any new proposed aircraft from outside Japan must have Japanese engines, radar and other components. This suggests that an additional, new vendor like Lockheed Martin may be primarily an airframe supplier.

The Reuters report did quote the Japanese Ministry of Defense as saying, “We are considering domestic development, joint development and the possibility of improving existing aircraft performance, but we have not yet come to any decision.”

There are a number of motives for Japan to consider a ground-up aircraft development for its own Gen 5+ aircraft. Perhaps the most compelling reason to consider a new direction are the lessons learned from the massive development processes for both the U.S. F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.

Both the F-22 and F-35 programs were expensive and groundbreaking in terms of leading the Gen 5 integration of combat aircraft into an air force. The attendant costs of those programs can be amortized and benefitted from in new development aircraft. The implication is they could be both better and cheaper.

Another reason for the shift in interest to a new Gen5+ direction for Japan’s next air superiority fighter is China. A March 15, 2018 article by Kyle Mizokami in Popular Mechanics quoted Chinese aircraft developer Yang Wei, deputy director of advanced of science and technology at Aviation Industry Corp of China and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying, “We are not complacent about what we have achieved. We will develop the J-20 into a large family and keep strengthening its information-processing and intelligent capacities. At the same time, we will think about our next-generation combat plane to meet the nation’s future requirements.”

China has also been active in expanding its export market for tactical aircraft, although advanced aircraft like the J-20s are likely to remain exclusively Chinese. Japan may look to co-develop a new aircraft that could possibly have limited export appeal in the region, provided the buy-in were lower than F-35.

Japan wants Lockheed Martin to propose a new stealth air superiority fighter. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

The costs of re-opening the F-22 production line, or even some version of it, have been generally regarded as prohibitive. However, Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone has long been advocating a sale of Raptors to Japan. In the 2016 story “Just Allow The F-22 To Be Exported To Japan Already“. Here’s a short excerpt from Tyler’s latest article on this subject (but I strongly recommend reading the whole story):

“Although Japan has put forward notional Raptor-like designs, what they could also be talking about here is merging the higher kinematic performance and low-observability of the F-22 with the F-35’s smarter attributes—including updated avionics, mission computers, and sensors—as well as new lower-maintenance skin coatings.

[…]

That cost [to put an updated F-22 back into production] may be too high for the USAF to stomach, but for Japan, it’s highly unlikely they will be able to field something superior to an updated F-22 for anywhere near less. It’s also likely that once the U.S.-specific politics of putting the Raptor back into production are removed from the equation, the cost of doing so would drop.

But if Japan is willing to buy an updated Raptor instead of developing a near identical but still unique design, clearly doing so would present a mutually beneficial opportunity. If the U.S. would become a minority stakeholder in an F-22 production line restart of sorts, with the intent on buying a number of airframes to bolster the USAF’s undersized and cherished F-22 fleet, then the opportunity could work out for both parties.

[…]

We will watch how this story develops closely, but if the Pentagon was smart, they would embrace an upgraded F-22 restart with Japan, and if Tokyo is willing to foot the majority of the bill for doing so, the USAF would be nuts not to take advantage of it. “

Indeed, this cost-sharing strategy between the U.S. and Japan would be a significant win-win, especially with the U.S. need for more F-22s. Let’s see what happens.

Top image: A wind tunnel model of Japan’s indigenous gen 5 stealth air superiority fighter. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

F-22 Incident Alleged to be Engine Power Loss. Pilot Lands Gear-Up.

Unofficial Sources Say F-22 Acting as Adversary at NAS Fallon Had Flame-Out.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from the 3rd Air Force Wing at Elmendorf Air Force has been involved in an incident at NAS Fallon in western Nevada. The aircraft has been shown in photos posted to social media laying on the runway with the landing gear retracted. The aircraft appears largely intact. No injuries have been reported. BTW, Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone has posted an interesting photo of the Raptor on its belly here.

There has not been an official announcement of the cause of the incident, and an incident like this will be subject to an official investigation that will ultimately determine the official cause.

Unofficial sources at the scene of the incident said that, “The slide happened on takeoff. It appears to have been a left engine flameout when the pilot throttled up to take off. By the time he realized the engine was dead, he had already been airborne for a few seconds and raised the gear. The jet bounced for around 1500 feet, and then slid for about 5000 feet. They got it off the ground and on its landing gear last night, so the runway is clear.”

The source also alleged there was another engine-related incident on an Elmendorf F-22 within the last seven days, although this unofficial information has not been verified.

Social media photos showed the aircraft being lifted with a crane following the incident. (Photos: via Air Force amn/nco/snco Group on Facebook)

It is likely the aircraft involved in the incident came from either the 3rd Wing’s 525th Fighter Squadron or the wing’s 90th Squadron. The 525th and 90th fighter squadrons are both part of the U.S. Air Force 3rd Wing. According to several sources the F-22 was at NAS Fallon to provide an adversary training resource to aircraft on exercise at the base. Naval Air Station Fallon is the home of the famous “Top Gun” school, the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program.

Top image credit: Air Force amn/nco/snco

Looks Like Russia Has Just Deployed Two Of Its Brand New Su-57 Stealth Jets To Syria

Quite surprisingly, Russia sent two of its Su-57 stealth jets to Syria. So, once again, Moscow will use the Syrian Air War as a test bed for its most advanced “hardware”. But the deployment is both an opportunity and a risk.

Late on Feb. 21, a photo showing two Russian Su-57 jets allegedly landing at Khemimim air base, near Latakia, in northwestern Syria, circulated on Twitter. The two stealth combat aircraft were reportedly part of a larger package of assets deployed to the Russian airbase in Syria, that included also four Su-35S and one A-50U AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft.

Interestingly, the aircraft appeared to be in “clean” configuration, that is to say they didn’t carry the large fuel tanks used for ferry flights last year.

Although the deployment of two Russian 5th generation aircraft (that has not been officially confirmed yet) came somehow unexpected, it must be noted that it’s not the first time that Moscow deployed some of its advanced “hardware” to Syria. For instance, on Sept. 13, 2017, the Russian Air Force deployed some of its MiG-29SMT multirole combat aircraft to Khemimim airbase for the first time. Previously, in February 2016, it was the turn of the still-in-development Tu-214R spyplane to exploit the air war in Syria to test its sensor packages.

As reported several times commenting the above mentioned deployments, Russia has used the Syrian Air War to showcase and test its latest weapons systems. However, most analysts agree that the deployment of the Su-57 is probably mostly meant to send a strong message about air superiority over Syria, where Russian and American planes have almost clashed quite a few times recently (with conflicting reports of the incidents).

Deploying two new stealth jet in theater is a pretty smart move for diplomatic and marketing purposes: as already explained questions continue to surround the Su-57 program as a consequence of delays, engine problems and subsequent difficult export (last year the Indian Air Force reportedly demanded an end to the joint Indo-Russian stealth fighter project). Albeit rather symbolic, the deployment of a combat aircraft (still under development) is obviously also a huge risk.

First, there’s a risk of being hit (on the ground or during a mission: the attack on Latakia airbase or the recent downing of a Su-25 are just reminders of what may happen over there) and second, there’s a risk of leaking intelligence data to the enemy.

This is what we explained in a recent article about the reasons why U.S. and Russia are shadow-boxing over Syria:

USAF Lt. Col. Pickart’s remarks about the Russians “deliberately testing or baiting us” are indicative of a force managing interactions to collect sensor, intelligence and capability “order of battle”. This intelligence is especially relevant from the current Syrian conflict as it affords both the Russians and the U.S. with the opportunity to operate their latest combat aircraft in close proximity to gauge their real-world sensor capabilities and tactical vulnerabilities, as well as learn doctrine. It is likely the incidents occurring now over Syria, and the intelligence gleaned from them, will be poured over in detail for years to come.

For instance, we have often explained how Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” over Syria, providing escort to strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. In fact, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy, performing ELINT-like missions and then sharing the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

In fact, even though it’s safe to assume that the stealth prototype will not use their radar and that the Russians will escort the Su-57s with Su-30/35 Flanker derivatives during their trips over Syria in order to prevent the U.S. spyplanes from being able to “characterize” the Su-57’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done by the Russians with the U.S. F-22s, it’s safe to assume the U.S. and NATO will put in place a significant effort to gather any little detail about the performance and operational capabilities of the new Russian stealth jet.

By the way, before you ask, the risk of confrontation with their U.S. stealth counterparts has not been mentioned, since it seems quite unlikely at the moment..

Top image credit: Aleksandr Markin – T-50 (51), CC BY-SA 2.0

U.S. F-22 Raptor Allegedly Interfered With Russian Su-25s Over Syria And “Chased Away” By Su-35S, Russian MoD Claims

A close encounter between an F-22, two Su-25s and one Su-35S occurred over Syria some weeks ago. Many things about the incident are yet to be explained though. CENTCOM: “There is no truth to this allegation.”

Several Russian media outlets are reporting an incident that involved a U.S. F-22 and some Russian aircraft over Syria, to the west of the Euphrates on Nov. 23, 2017. Some details of the close encounter were unveiled by the Russian MoD’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, who described the episode “as yet another example of US aircraft attempts to prevent Russian forces from carrying out strikes against Islamic State,” according to RT.

According to the Russian account, a Russian Su-35S was scrambled after a U.S. F-22 interfered with two Su-25s that were bombing an Islamic State target. Here’s Sputnik news version:

An American F-22 fighter actively prevented the Russian pair of Su-25 attack aircraft from carrying out a combat mission to destroy the Daesh stronghold in the suburbs of the city of Mayadin in the airspace over the western bank of the Euphrates River on November 23. The F-22 aircraft fired off heat flares and released brake shields with permanent maneuvering, imitating an air battle.”

At the same time, he [Major-General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesperson] noted that “after the appearance of a Russian multifunctional super maneuverable Su-35S fighter, the American fighter stopped dangerous maneuvers and hurried to move into Iraqi airspace.”

Many things are yet to be explained making the story really hard to believe:

  • it’s not clear why the F-22 was flying alone (most probably another Raptor was nearby);
  • why did the stealth jet release flares and perform hard maneuvering (lacking a direct radio contact, was the American pilot trying to catch the Russian pilots attention using unconventional signalling)?
  • was the F-22 mission a “show of force”?
  • what are the RoE (Rules Of Engagement) in place over Syria?
  • were there other coalition aircraft nearby? Where? Did they take part in the action?
  • how was a Su-35 scrambled from Hmeymim airbase able to chase away the F-22? Did the Flanker reach the area in time to persuade the Raptor to leave?

Update Dec. 10, 06:53 GMT: we have just received an email from CENTCOM CJTF OIR PAO with their version of the alleged incident that denies and debunks the Russian MoD claims:

There is no truth to this allegation. According to our flight logs for Nov 23, 2017, this alleged incident did not take place, nor has there been any instance where a Coalition aircraft crossed the river without first deconflicting with the Russians via the deconfliction phone line set up for this purpose. Of note, on Nov 23, 2017, there were approximately nine instances where Russian fighter aircraft crossed to the east side of the Euphrates River into Coalition airspace without first using the deconfliction phone. This random and unprofessional activity placed Coalition and Russian aircrew at risk, as well as jeopardizing Coalition ability to support partner ground forces in the area.

Any claims that the Coalition would protect Daesh, or hinder, a strike against Daesh are completely false. We strike them hard wherever they are found. What we can tell you is that we actively deconflict the airspace in Syria with the Russians to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh in the region. We will continue to work with our SDF partners, just as we will continue to deconflict with the Russians for future Coalition strikes against Daesh targets in Syria.

Anyway, the (alleged) episode reminds the incident that occurred on Jun. 18, 2017, when an F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors” and piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Michael “Mob” Tremel,” shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter near the town of Resafa (40 km to the southwest of Raqqa, Syria), after the pro-Assad Syrian Air Force ground attack aircraft had bombed Coalition-friendly SDF positions. In the official statement released from the Coalition about the incident the Combined Joint Task Force stated, “The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition partner forces from any threat.”

If confirmed, the one on Nov. 23 would be the first “official” close encounter between F-22 and the Su-35 over Syria.

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.

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.

Aviation analysts have long debated the tactical value of the Russian Su-35S supermaneuverability displayed at airshows in the real world air combat environment. Are such low speed maneuvers worthless to fight against the U.S. 5th Gen. stealth aircraft, such as the F-22, that would engage the Su-35S from BVR (Beyond Visual Range) exploiting their radar-evading capabilities?

It depends on several factors.

The F-22 is a supermaneuverable stealth aircraft. Raptor’s stealthiness is maintained by storing weapons in internal bays capable to accommodate 2x AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, some AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (the number depending on the configuration), as well as 2x 1,000 pound GBU-32 JDAM or 8x GBU-39 small diameter bombs: in this way the Raptor can dominate the airspace above the battlefield while performing its mission, be it air superiority, OCA (Offensive Counter Air), or the so-called kinetic situational awareness “provider”. Moreover its two powerful Pratt & Whitney F-119-PW-100 engines give the fifth fighter the ability to accelerate past the speed of sound without using the afterburners (the so-called supercruise) and TV (Thrust Vectoring), that can be extremely useful, in certain conditions, to put the Raptor in the proper position to score a kill.

All these capabilities have made the F-22 almost invincible (at least on paper and mock engagements). Indeed, a single Raptor during one of its first training sorties was able to kill eight F-15s in a mock air-to-air engagement, well before they could see it.

In its first Red Flag participation, in February 2007, the Raptor was able to establish air dominance rapidly and with no losses. As reported by Dave Allport and Jon Lake in a story which appeared on Air Force Monthly magazine, during an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in 2008, the F-22s scored 221 simulated kills without a single loss!

Still, when outnumbered and threatened by F-15s, F-16s and F-18s, in a simulated WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfight with particularly limiting ROE, the F-22 is not invincible. For instance, during the 2012 Red Flag-Alaska, the German Eurofighters not only held their own, but reportedly achieved several kills on the Raptors.

Even though we don’t know anything about the ROE set for those training sorties and, at the same time, the outcome of those mock air-to-air combat is still much debated (as there are different accounts of those simulated battles), the “F-22 vs 4th Gen aircraft” is always a much debated topic.

In fact, although these 4th Gen. aircraft are not stealth, they are equipped with IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track).

Indeed, F-22s and other stealth planes have extremely little radar cross-section (RCS) but they do have an IR signature. This means that they can be vulnerable to non-stealthy planes that, using their IRST sensors, hi-speed computers and interferometry, can geo-locate enemy LO (low observability) aircraft.

Indeed, there are certain scenarios and ROE where IRST and other tactics could greatly reduce the advantage provided by radar invisibility and this is one of the reasons why USAF has fielded IRST pods to Aggressors F-16s in the latest Red Flags as proved by shots of the Nellis’s Vipers carrying the Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42. According to some pilots who have fought against the F-22 in mock air combat, the IRST can be extremely useful to detect “large and hot stealth targets like the F-22″ during mock aerial engagements at distances up to 50 km.

That said, the F-22s remains the world’s most advanced air superiority aircraft and would be able to keep an edge on an Su-35S at BVR (Beyond Visual Range): even though AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles) are still somehow unreliable and jamming is sometimes extremely effective, the U.S. stealth jets (as well as the F-15s and F/A-18s operating over Syria) rely on a superior intelligence and tightly integrated one another. This means that the F-22s would be able to arrange the engagement based on a perfect knowledge of the battlefield; a true “information superiority” that is probably more important than the aircraft’s peculiar features. However, if forced to closer range (within range of the IRST) to comply with limiting ROE or for any other reason, the F-22 would find in the Russian Su-35S a fearsome opponent, and would have to rely mainly on the pilot’s experience and training to win in the aerial engagement against Moscow’s top supermaneuverable combat aircraft.

Top image: Anna Zvereva/USAF