Tag Archives: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

B-2 Flyover at Rose Parade Honored USAF Hero Major Benjamin “Chex” Meier

B-2 Spirit Flyover in California Honors Hero. Does It Suggest a Change in Alert Status too?

Parade goers celebrating the new year at the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 2018 were treated to a magnificent display of state-of-the-art U.S. Air Force airpower when two F-35A Lightning IIs and a B-2 Spirit made a spectacular flyover of the parade route.

The Rose Parade flyover honored USAF Major Benjamin “Chex” Meier, a USAF F-16 pilot who flew combat missions over Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and received the Air Force Medal. Major Meier was also assigned to the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron as an F-35A Lighting II pilot at Edwards Air Force Base. The flyover not only memorializes Major Benjamin Meier, who died in a non-aviation related accident while running on base at Edwards on September 28, 2015, it also acknowledges his heroic legacy from his wishes to donate his heart, lungs, liver and kidneys after his death to save the lives of five people awaiting organ transplants. Major Meier is survived by his wife and two sons. The two F-35As that participated in today’s flyover were from Major Meier’s former unit, the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron.

Today’s flyover honored USAF Major Benjamin “Chex” Meier for his service and selfless organ donations following his accidental death in 2015. (Photo: USAF)

Without reading too much into the beautiful memorial flyover held in splendid weather in Pasadena, it is worth noting that a recent planned B-2 flyover at the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, just 52 days prior to the traditional Pasadena flyover, was cancelled due to “re-tasking” according to Air Force Public Affairs at Nellis.

There was no specific description of the “re-tasking” that lead to the earlier Nellis flyover cancellation. It could have been maintenance requirements or it may also have been a change in alert status due to factors such as tensions with North Korea.

While there are no official confirmations about the specific reasons for the planned Nov. 11, 2017 flyover being cancelled, it may be reasonable to at least wonder if today’s flyover suggests a reduction in B-2 tasking requirements and possibly a correlating moderation (?) of tensions with North Korea. Again, there has been no official acknowledgement of this idea, but a flyover of one of only 12-14 combat ready B-2s represents almost 8% of the total force being committed for a number of hours to the flyover mission, when that availability wasn’t present just 52 days prior for Aviation Nation at Nellis.

There are only 19 total B-2 Spirit stealth bombers in the operational USAF inventory.

Any ideas?

Image credit: Mark Holtzman

 

Cybersecurity In The Sky: Internet of Things Capabilities Making Aircraft More Exposed To Cyber Threats Than Ever Before

The rise of IoT (Internet Of Things) could become a security nightmare for aviation. We spoke with an expert about the dangers associated with bringing military and civil aircraft “online”.

The Internet of things (IoT) is the inter-networking of physical devices equipped with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects (referred to as “connected things”) to collect and exchange data.

Almost every device that is able to connect to the Internet can be considered as a “connected thing”: smartphones,  wearables, personal computers, refrigerators, smart meters, cars, buildings and, why not, aircraft can be considered IoT devices that communicate with one another. Smart homes are enabled by IoT devices. Just think to this scenario: a user arrives home and his car autonomously communicates with the garage to open the door. The thermostat is already adjusted to his preferred temperature, due to sensing his proximity. He walks through his door as it unlocks in response to his smart phone or RFID implant. The home’s lighting is adjusted to lower intensity and his chosen color for relaxing, as his pacemaker data indicates that it’s been a stressful day.

Based on some recent estimates, there will be about 30 Billion devices connected to the IoT by 2020.

What is somehow worrisome about the proliferation of IoT devices is the fact that most of these are poorly protected and hackable. Between September and October 2016, a botnet made of hundreds thousands under-secured IoT devices (mainly CCTV cameras) was used to perform one of the largest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks ever: a malware dubbed “Mirai” identified vulnerable IoT devices and turned these networked devices into remotely controlled “bots” that could be used as part of a botnet in large-scale network attacks. On Oct. 21, the so-called “Mirai IoT botnet” remotely instructed 100,000 devices to target the DNS services of DNS service provider Dyn. As a result much of America’s internet was brought down by the cyber-attack, because it prevent the accessibility of several high-profile websites.

Now, imagine for a moment, that these attacks involved or were aimed at connected airplanes.

“Soon, thousands of sensors will be embedded in each aircraft, allowing data to be streamed down to the ground in real-time. And who knows, in time, this could drive the ubiquitous black box to become simply a backup device!” said Aviation Week in an article last year.

Indeed, an aircraft can leverage IoT capabilities to proactively identify maintenance issues and place orders for replacement parts and ground maintenance crew while cruising, so that, when it lands, everything is already in place and ready to be fixed, without affecting the optempo. This is, for instance, what the F-35’s ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System) does: ALIS (pronounced “Alice”) uses sensors embedded throughout the aircraft to detect performance, compare to parameters, use sophisticated analytics to predict maintenance needs, and then communicate with maintenance staff so that the right parts are ready when needed. ALIS serves as the information infrastructure for the F-35, transmitting aircraft health and maintenance action information to the appropriate users on a globally-distributed network to technicians worldwide. In this respect the F-35 is said to be on the IoT’s cutting edge.

Maintenance information aside, the F-35 is surely the largest data collection and sharing platform ever produced, or the Number #1 IoT Device that can collect intelligence and battlefield data from several sensors and share it in real time with other assets as well as commanders.

The F-35 is an example of the extent of interconnection 5th Gen. warplanes feature. To complete missions in denied airspace, pilots need a way to share information securely, without revealing their location to enemy forces. The F-35 has incorporated Northrop Grumman’s MADL into its missions systems to provide pilots with the ability to connect with other planes and automatically share situational awareness data between fighter aircraft. The MADL is a high-data-rate, directional communications link that allows for the secure transmission of coordinated tactics and engagement for 5th Generation aircraft operating in high-threat environments. The MADL is one of 27 different waveforms in the F-35’s communication, navigation and identification (CNI) suite.

With IoT capabilities becoming pivotal to the world of military and civil aviation, connected aircraft could soon become the next target for cyber criminals or cyber enemies.

We have asked a couple of questions about the risk the IoT poses to aviation to Tom Hardin, research lead at G2 Crowd, a peer-to-peer, business software review platform.

Q) What’s the relation between IoT and Aviation?

A) The combination of IoT and aviation is intriguing on a variety of levels. As ‘things’ have become more connected, from wearables to self-driving cars, we now have access to massive amounts of new data points. All of this data can not only help us understand consumers better, but can potentially provide actionable intelligence on the business operations side. An example is tracking the movement of a product throughout a particular supply chain, storing data on production, delivery, and maintenance, that ultimately leads to more predictive and intelligent workflows.

Connecting IoT to commercial aviation, the concept of massive data storage capabilities leading to better analytics, maintenance, and the operation of aircraft could potentially offer significant benefits. Having real-time access to all data points during a flight, such as engine performance, weather analysis, pilot monitoring, etc., could help mechanical engineers create more efficient engines, allow operators to provide more accurate weather forecasts, and aid pilots’ health (and the safety of passengers).

In terms of military aviation, IoT would provide the same potential benefits experienced by commercial airlines, but applied more directly to combat strategies and tactical support. With all of the data gathered through an IoT-connected military aircraft, weapons system, or ground vehicle, missions could be planned with a greater level of intelligence and more effective strategy. Machine learning also plays a role here, as a system can be trained to make real-time decisions, helping collect intelligence faster and identify key threats quicker. For example, sensors on a military aircraft could potentially pick-up a mission-critical piece of information, and instead on that data point being missed or slowly relayed to troops on the ground, it is analyzed and communicated in real-time, allowing for a tactical shift that could increase the mission’s odds of success (and save more lives).

Q) What kind of risks do the above scenarios imply? Are there signs an aircraft or an airport will soon become a battlefield for cyberterrorism or cyberwar?

A) Although there are clear benefits to using IoT for military purposes, there are also serious dangers. Possibly the biggest threat of all is dealing with cyber criminals and hacking. With IoT connected military planes compiling sensitive data, hackers could potentially gain access to strategic information such as the location of troops or detailed mission plans. Even more frightening is the prospect that a hacker could gain access to an aircraft’s control system and weaponry, similar to drone hacks, and use it against the enemy. This type of breach could lead to acts of remote terrorism, which is truly a terrifying thought.

In terms of establishing a timeline on when all of this would be possible, it’s difficult to speculate. My feeling is that it is closer than most of us think. And with DDoS attacks continuing to be an issue, IoT security across industries needs to address the potential for massive data breaches or hostile takeovers.

With all of the potential benefits and security issues with IoT, aviation is something we need to keep an eye on. With the amount of terrorist attacks involving airplanes and airports in recent memory, the threat of a cyberterrorist attack involving a connected aircraft, especially if it is equipped with military-grade weaponry, could be catastrophic. And though hacking into the control system of a plane is likely incredibly complex, security concerns over IoT remain, leaving us to ponder the state if our increasingly connected world.

Hackers have already been targeting modern aircraft made of millions lines of code (with the F-35, the world’s most advanced, “software-based” aircraft at the top of the target list), for years now. IoT capabilities will simply expand the attack surface making next generation aircraft possibly more exposed to hacking than ever before.

Disclaimer: the F-35 is extensively mentioned in this article just because it is most interconnected combat aircraft to date and its Condition-Based Maintenance is considered a clear example of IoT Application in the military.

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Atlantic Trident 17 brought together in type and capability the most formidable combination of fighter aircraft ever assembled.

Atlantic Trident 17 Drives a Higher Level of Integration.

The exercise held April 12 – 28 at Joint Base Langley-Eustice (JBLE) included a “Blue Air” force of USAF F-22 Raptors of the 1st Fighter Wing (FW) JBLE and F-35 Lightning IIs from Eglin AFB, Typhoons of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Rafales of the French Air Force/Armée de l’Air (FAF).

The adversaries or “Red Air” included USAF F-15E Strike Eagles of the 391st FS “Bold Tigers” Mountain Home AFB, ID and T-38A Talons of the 71st Fighter Training Squadron (FTS) “Ironmen” based at JBLE.  Additional assets included the E-3A Sentry from Tinker AFB, OK and a variety of tankers, including a FAF KC-135 and KC-10 of the 305th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ.

Aside from the primary training objectives the exercise also provided the opportunity to commemorate 100 years of aerial combat cooperation between the French and US stemming back to WWI.

From the outside, looking in the lethal capabilities of Blue Air appeared to be overwhelming, with Red Air offering little challenge.  However, one must consider that the 71st FTS “Ironmen” fly daily as adversaries against the Raptor and possess pilots with Raptor experience.  These factors (along with the sheer numbers of Red Air fielded and their ability to “regenerate” on range) provide Red Air with the best likelihood to exploit any vulnerabilities or errors with Blue Air’s tactics – regardless their impressive platforms.

Towards the end of the exercise The Aviationist sat down with Colonel Pete “Coach” Fesler, 1 FW Commander to discuss the exercise and the evolution of air combat in the context of 5th Gen aircraft.

Fesler noted that Atlantic Trident ’17 took integration beyond historical practice. On a tactical level integration historically involved a serial employment of aircraft (such as a Combat Air Patrol of RAF Typhoons) or geographical deconfliction of aircraft (such as FAF assets attacking ground targets in a designated area).  However, as Fesler explained starting with Red Flag 17-1 integration has gone deeper, involving a variety of platforms in the same airspace at the same time.  Integration between platforms also considered the various loiter time and weapons load/type for a given platform over a given vulnerability period (vul – the period of time when an aircraft is vulnerable to harm).

RAF Typhoons on the ramp with Strike Eaglesat Joint Base Langley-Eustis during Atlantic Trident ’17.

While not being specific, it is not difficult to envision a mixed strike package of Rafales and F-35s, a combat air patrol (CAP) of Typhoons and Raptors (or mix and match on any given mission set).  This level of integration leads to big challenges for an adversary who may easily be fixated on attacking a detected Gen 4.5 aircraft, while getting blindsided by a 5th Gen platform or be distracted by a 5th Gen threat “sensed” in the area and get bounced by a very capable Typhoon or Rafale. Hesitation in such air to air combat will most likely be punished with an ending in a ball of flames.

Dassualt Rafales of the Armée de l’air – French Air Force on the ramp at JBLE during Atlantic Trident ’17

The abundance of information available on the battlefield today drives a much higher level of integration.  Fesler noted that multiple people/assets may be involved with the finding, identifying and targeting portion of an air to air encounter. The pilot may take care of the final step and fire the missile that kills the target, but wouldn’t have found their way to that merge unless the assets got them there.

Atlantic Trident ’17 provided an opportunity to demonstrate how the advancement of aircraft, tactics and integration is driving change in the function of the fighter force.  For many years, the F-22 Raptor has utilized its superior sensors and SA to take the role of “quarterback” during a vul.  Given the integration of the F-35 and with the capabilities of the Typhoon and Rafale, the notion of a “single quarterback” is changing.  Frankly, per Fesler, the quarterback notion is starting to become almost a misnomer now in that we have multiple quarterbacks and it’s less about one individual directing everything and more about multiple nodes of information being able to provide the key pieces of information at the right time to influence the fight.  It is a foreboding thought for an adversary who now faces a team, where every position has the intelligence/capability of a hall of fame quarterback, even while performing their specific role at the highest level.

F-22 Raptors of the 1st FW JBLE wait for launch clearance at the EOR during Atlantic Trident ’17.

Performing at a high level is one thing, altering the playing field is another.  The 5th Gen aircraft has done that very thing, altering the classic air to air engagement in a fundamental way.  Fesler noted, the classic approach of shooting ones missiles and turning before the adversary can get a shot is predicated on the fact that the adversary sees you.  In the 4th gen world that is the case.  Ideally the pilot would like to be able to shoot, let their missile do the work and get away before the adversary can get a missile off.  In the 5th Gen world, the adversary doesn’t necessarily know where you are coming from.  The 5th Gen pilot may shoot a missile and monitor to make sure it is effective.  If the missile misses for any number of reasons, they are in good position for a follow-up shot.

F-22 Raptor of the 1st Fighter Wing JBLE taxis towards launch during Atlantic Trident ’17.

That is one of the fundamental difference between 4th Gen fighters and 5th Gen fighters.  In general, in the 5th Gen world the adversary doesn’t really know where you are coming from.  They may have a general idea but not a lot of specifics.  For 5th Gen pilots it’s a good place to be, to be able to roam around the battlefield faster than the speed of sound in an airplane that is largely undetectable all while your airplane is building a 3 dimensional picture of everything within a couple hundred miles of you. Ouch.

F-35A from Eglin AFB moves towards launch for a vul during Atlantic Trident ’17 exercise held at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA.

Aside from the exceptional technical aspects that fascinate and draw attention, Felser ultimately notes that his takeaways from Atlantic Trident ‘17 fall back to the human aspect; “fighter pilots are fighter pilots regardless of what their uniforms look like.  Aircraft maintainers are aircraft maintainers regardless of what their uniforms look like.  There are some universal experiences, beliefs and cultures that transcend the national boundaries in this and that’s one of the things I have enjoyed out of both Tri-lateral exercises (2015 & AT ‘17) that we’ve had.  The man in the machine still makes a difference. You can have the most lethal fighter in the world but if you make a mistake a far inferior aircraft can shoot you out of the sky. Training still matters.  If that were not the case, we’d buy the machines, park them and never fly them and when war kicked off jump in them and go and fly. That in fact is not the case and you can lose a war with the best equipment if you don’t know how to use it right, if your tactics aren’t sound, if your skills aren’t automatic, you can still lose.”

F-15E of the 391st FS “Bold Tigers” Mountain Home AFB, ID launches from JBLE for Red Air Vul during Atlantic Trident ’17

Atlantic Trident ‘17 reveals the way forward; advanced integration, people making a difference, and high level training.  This rationale drives the Air Force ensuring it is ready with the highest capability for the next conflict on day 1.

Fourth and fifth-generation aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The F-35 Lightning II was incorporated in the exercise, along with the F-22 Raptor and fourth-generation assets to develop tactics, techniques and procedures that can be used during future coalition fights. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to Jeffrey Hood 633 ABW PA and the entire 633 ABW Public Affairs Team who were instrumental and exceptional with their support; Col. Pete “Coach” Fesler, 1 Fighter Wing Commanding Officer, and the entire 1 FW; the entire team at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, professional and gracious throughout the visit.  You set the bar, our service people are the finest.

Image credit: Todd Miller, unless otherwise stated.

 

Meet The First Female F-35 Pilot

USAF Lt. Col. Christine Mau Is The First Woman to Fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This Is Why It Does, And Doesn’t Matter.

It was May 7, 2015. Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In a (today) seemingly minor event in aviation history deputy-commander of the U.S. Air Force 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group, Lt. Col. Christine Mau, became the first female ever to fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The event marked several ongoing milestones, the first woman to fly an F-35 anywhere in the world, but also the increasing integration of female combat pilots into the most advanced flight operations in the world.

“Women have been flying fighters in combat for over 20 years” Lt. Col. Mau said in an interview with Air Force media.

Her remarks de-emphasized the gender topic and focused on the performance of the (then) new F-35A Lightning II. At the time Lt. Col. Mau flew the F-35A for the first time, there were only 86 other (male) pilots certified to fly the F-35A in the entire U.S. Air Force.

While there have been cultural gender-biased barriers to entry for women in combat roles in most armed services some of the barriers to entry for female- and male- combat pilots were technical. In October of 2015 the U.S. Air Force required that any pilot using the F-35 Lightning II’s Martin-Baker US16E ejection seat requires a minimum pilot weight of 136 pounds. Martin-Baker’s original specification for pilot weight in the US16E ejection seat was 103 pounds. The temporary change was implemented by the Air Force from concerns about ejection seat performance in specific areas of the aircraft’s flight performance envelope. The Air Force and Martin-Baker have subsequently published that the weight restriction will be lifted in April 2017 according to media outlet Defense News. The article went on to characterize the original weight restriction as be imposed as a result of “high risk of severe or potentially fatal neck injuries upon being ejected from the aircraft.”

“Flying is a great equalizer,” Mau told Air Force media in 2015. “The plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot, nor do the ground troops who need your support,” Lt. Col. Mau said. “You just have to perform. That’s all anyone cares about when you’re up there — that you can do your job, and that you do it exceptionally well.”

Being the first female to fly the F-35A was not Lt. Col. Mau’s first page in the aviation history book. She also flew the first all-female combat sortie conducted by the U.S. Air Force in 2011 when she and an all-female maintenance and planning crew launched an F-15E Strike Eagle combat operation against insurgents in Afghanistan’s Kunar Valley.

Lt. Col. Mau comes from a family of aviators. Her father was a C-130 pilot in the Air National Guard and a commercial pilot for Continental Airlines. She is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in the class of 1997.

Her contributions to military aviation not only as an outstanding pilot and leader but also as a woman prove that physics and aerodynamics do not acknowledge gender, and that in the air, every pilot is equal on the basis of gender.

Image credit: Martin Baker and U.S. Air Force

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F-15E Strike Eagles unable to shoot down the F-35s in 8 dogfights during simulated deployment

“0 losses in 8 dogfights against F-15E Red Air”

The U.S. Air Force F-35A fleet continues to work to declare the Lightning II IOC (initial operational capability) scheduled in the August – December timeframe.

Among the activities carried out in the past weeks, a simulated deployment provided important feedbacks about the goal of demonstrating the F-35’s ability to “penetrate areas with developed air defenses, provide close air support to ground troops and be readily deployable to conflict theaters.”

Seven F-35s deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to  Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, to carry out a series of operational tests which involved local-based 4th Generation F-15E Strike Eagles belonging to the 366th Fighter Wing.

In a Q&A posted on the USAF website, Col. David Chace, the F-35 systems management office chief and lead for F-35 operational requirements at ACC, provided some insights about the activities carried out during the second simulated deployment to Mountain Home (the first was in February this year):

“The F-35 recently deployed from Hill to Mountain Home where crews, maintenance and support personnel conducted a number of missions. During that deployment, crews attained a 100 percent sortie generation rate with 88 of 88 planned sorties and a 94 percent hit rate with 15 of 16 bombs on target.
These numbers provide a positive indication of where we are when it comes to stability and component performance.”

“Feedback from the events at Mountain Home will feed into the overall evaluation of F-35 capabilities. The second evaluation will take place in the operational test environment with F-35 mission sets the Air Force intends to execute after IOC. All reports will be delivered in July and feed into the overall F-35 capabilities report. The ultimate goal is to provide a needed capability to the warfighter to execute the mission. It is not calendar-based or event-based.”

“The feedback from unit operators in place today has been very positive for the F-35, not just concerning performance but the ability the aircraft has with other platforms. In particular at Hill, integration with the F-15E (Strike Eagle) has gone very well. We’ve also been demonstrating the ability to put bombs on target. All of that information will be provided to us in the formal IOC readiness assessments.”

The following interesting chart accompanies the Q&A.

It shows some stats about the deployment.

F-35 deployment

The fourth column shows something interesting: during the exercise, the F-35s were challenged by some F-15Es and suffered no losses.

Even though the graphic does not say whether the F-35s did shoot back at the F-15Es some analysts (noticing also the “pew pew pew” in the chart….) have suggested the JSFs achieved stunning 8:0 kill rate against the Strike Eagle.

However, the “zero losses” may simply mean that the F-35s were able to complete their assigned strikes without being shot down by the aggressors of the Red Air: considered that the F-15Es were probably equipped with the AN/APG-82 AESA radar and the Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod), the fact that the Strike Eagles performing DCA (Defensive Counter Air) were not able to “find” and/or “engage” the almost-IOC F-35s can be considered a huge achievement for the pricey, troubled 5th generation multirole combat plane.

Actually, this is not the first time the F-35 proves itself able to fly unscathed through a fighter-defended area: not a single Lightning II was shot down during Green Flag 15-08, the first major exercise conducted, more or less one year ago, on the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, during which the F-35 flew as main CAS (Close Air Support) provider.

At that time, several analysts claimed the participation of two test aircraft in the exercise was just a PR stunt, since the aircraft was still quite far from achieving a combat readiness required to really support the troops at war.

Let’s see what happens this time…

 

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