Tag Archives: F-35

The U.S. Air Force Turns 70 Years Old Today: A Look Back, A Look Ahead.

USAF Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary With Reverence for History and Hunger for Innovation.

The United States Air Force turns 70 years old today. The newest branch of the U.S. military was born with the passing of the National Security Act in 1947, a restructuring of U.S. military assets in the wake of WWII. During the Second World War air combat operations were conducted by the Marines, Navy and the Army Air Corps.

The U.S. Air Force is arguably the strongest air force in the world, fielding over 5,500 aircraft across different roles. By comparison, intelligence sources cite the Russian Air Force as fielding approximately 3,794 aircraft, the Chinese Air Force claims to operate approximately 3,000 aircraft. All other countries lag significantly behind in numbers and in technology. The USAF is also the only air force in the world to have operational experience with a fifth-generation combat aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The F-22 began flying combat missions in Syria in 2014 and has performed the precision strike, air superiority and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles operationally.

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors are providing “kinetic situational awareness” over Syria: the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then they share the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

In recent years, the Air Force has received criticism from the general public over pilot shortages and costly acquisition programs like the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, the Air Force variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. It has also rushed to field an effective ballistic missile defense system for the United States mainland, an effort made more important by concerns over recent advances in North Korean missile capabilities.

The realities of the U.S. Air Force suggest that it is efficient in fielding new programs and cost-effective with assessing developmental programs while simultaneously conducting combat and support operations in several locations around the world. One recent example of the Air Force’s highly adaptive evaluation doctrine is the Light Attack Experiment, a program to evaluate the use of low-cost, already available tactical attack aircraft.

Perhaps one of the most significant advancements has been the establishment of the 24th Air Force as “AFCYBER” or the Air Forces Cyber unit. This operational unit fielded in 2010 provides security, surveillance and combat capability on the rapidly evolving cyber battlefield. The unit is fully operational and regularly performs real-world cyber combat operations in defense of the United States and its allies.

Immediately following the formation of the U.S. Air Force 70 years ago today in 1947 the force began a period of remarkable development programs. The Cold War, a conflict that lasted from 1947 until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, was the primary motive for much of the development. This period of remarkable development included advancements like breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 and later achieving the fastest powered atmospheric flight in the X-15.

The Douglas X-3 Stiletto typified the rapid development of experimental aircraft of the USAF in the 1950s. (Photo: USAF)

Later the U.S. Air Force fielded the first operational low-observable or “stealth” combat aircraft with the Lockheed F-117 Night Hawk. The advanced program, that remained classified for years, was also one of the fastest and most cost-effective major acquisition programs in U.S. military history. In fact, there are so many noteworthy Air Force development programs that have set records or created new aviation capabilities they are too numerous to list in a single article.

Even as some superpowers continue to try to achieve technical parity with the U.S. Air Force the USAF continues to innovate with planning for the replacement of the F-22 Raptor, the Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter or “NGAD” and many other new systems.

This is Northrop Grumman‘s concept of the sixth-generation aircraft, known as Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter or “NGAD” fighter jet. (Northrop Grumman)

Considering the U.S. Air Force is the youngest of the armed forces in the United States it is easy to suggest they are the most innovative and have experienced the most change in the last 70 years. Looking ahead to the next century of the U.S. Air Force it’s difficult to envision what it will look like and what its capabilities may be.

No, it wasn’t an F-35. So, What Did Crash Near Nellis? Here Are Some Theories.

Who Was F-35 Test Pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz and What He Was Flying When He Died?

The tragic loss and impressive career of U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz in a reported crash on Tuesday night has been overshadowed in Internet forums by speculation about what type of aircraft he was flying when the accident occurred. The type of aircraft remains classified according to Air Force sources.

Amid increasing speculation that the aircraft involved in the crash may have been an F-35, USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, was quoted on Saturday morning, September 9, as telling Military.com, “I can definitely say it was not an F-35.”

The comment by Gen. Goldfein to Military.com confirming that Col. Schultz was not flying an F-35 raises the question; what was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz flying when he was fatally injured in the crash this Tuesday?

The U.S. Air Force said the aircraft was operated by the Air Force Materiel Command and that it crashed around 6 PM, 100 miles Northwest of Nellis AFB in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

 

What was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz working on when he died from a crash earlier this week?

It is important to understand any examination of his activities are strictly conjecture as all official sources have declined to comment on the specifics of Lt. Col. Schultz’s assignment when he died.

With a practical background in tactical air combat from flying F-15E Strike Eagles and an academic and career background including powerplant engineering, Lt. Col Schultz could have been working on any number of classified projects.

There are several projects known to be operational or under development in the classified Nellis, Nevada and California area test ranges where Lt. Col. Schultz is reported to have had his now fatal accident.

The test and development programs include opposing forces threat simulation and testing using Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 (NATO codename “Flanker”) aircraft. These aircraft were photographed on November 8, 2016 by Phil Drake from the Tikaboo Valley near the Groom Lake, Nevada test range. Drake captured long range photos of an SU-27P Flanker-B engaging in dissimilar air combat maneuvers (ACM) with an F-16, possibly an F-16D, four of which are thought to operate from Groom Lake. It is possible that, with Lt. Col. Schultz’s involvement in the F-15E Strike Eagle community and his advanced academic background, he could have been involved in an advanced opposing forces capabilities benchmarking research project or in a familiarization program with opposing forces aircraft like the Sukhoi(s) photographed at Groom Lake.

Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 aircraft were photographed last year over the test ranges near where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz’s accident may have occurred. (Credit: Phil Drake)

Another classified project in the area is continued flight operations of the “retired” Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk presumably for radar cross section testing and analysis. The famous “stealth fighter” was photographed by our reader, “Sammamishman,” in late July, 2016. The photos showed two F-117 aircraft in the air and on the ground at the Groom Lake test facility 8 years after retirement.

Two F-117s at TTR in July 2016.

Another test program that may be underway in the area, and that Lt. Col. Schultz may have been contributing to at the time of his fatal accident, is the classified Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB). The B-21 program is likely a replacement or augmentation to the currently operational B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Artists’ depictions of the B-21 Raider suggest it is similar in configuration to the B-2 Spirit, but may be smaller. It likely still retains a crew of more than one person however, although an accident involving any potential prototype may not necessarily be fatal for an entire crew, however many that number may be. Recall the crash of the XB-70 Valkyrie on June 8, 1966. That large strategic bomber prototype had a two-person crew on board when it crashed due to a midair collision. The crash only resulted in one fatality, with the other aircrew member safely ejecting. There is, however, no public information on the potential flight status of the B-21 Raider program.

B-21 raider concept (NG)

There is also the possibility aircraft was the same boomerang shaped trailing edge jet photographed on Mar. 10, 2014 by Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett at Amarillo International Airport or the triangular one seen over Wichita in the same period, or something else, never seen before.

However, whilst both the Su-27s (operated by the AFMC according to the Combat Aircraft’s editor Jamie Hunter), the F-117s and the two mysterious aircraft of 2014, were spotted flying in daylight, there is someone who believes a highly-classified prototype would hardly fly before sunset.

The reality of Lt. Col. Schultz’s tragic loss is that, while we know he was an accomplished aviator, test pilot and academic we likely will not know the actual circumstances of his accident or the aircraft he was operating until the Air Force chooses to make the information officially available. Until then, a survey of the known projects in the area where Lt. Col. Schultz’s accident unfortunately occurred is all we have.

The more relevant story however, is the noteworthy career of USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz.

Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, call sign “Doc” because he owned a PhD in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology in 2000, was an academic and award-winning pilot. At one point he was also an aspiring astronaut, having made application to astronaut training.

In one accounting of Lt. Col Schultz’s early academic career it is reported that after earning his undergraduate degree from Penn State in 1995, the Department of Defense paid for Schultz to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. His master’s work included research on the ram accelerator, a powerful gun-like device that shoots payloads into exo-atmospheric orbital flight in space. If perfected, the accelerator could be used in place of reusable spacecraft missions, like the X-47B, to transport equipment into orbit or to space stations.

Schultz graduated with his master’s degree in aeronautics in 1997 from the University of Washington.

According to a report published on October 4, 2006 in the Baltimore Sun by writer Susan Gvozdas, Col. Schultz “Received a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship to support his research on advanced propulsion systems and safety at nuclear waste storage facilities”.

Also according to news report archives, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was rejected from the Air Force on five occasions for not meeting eyesight standards for pilots. After his early attempts at entering Air Force ROTC were rejected due to his eyesight, Schultz worked in a civilian capacity with the Navy as a flight engineer while continuing his graduate education.

Schultz’s prior work as a graduate assistant won the attention of jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney based in Connecticut. According to a report, Erik Christofferson, a deputy general manager at Pratt’s Washington office, persuaded the company to hire Schultz. “He had the right combination of technical background and communication skills,” Christofferson said. “He was engaging and sharp.” According to the report Schultz worked on the development of detonation engines at Pratt & Whitney’s Seattle Aerosciences Center,.

He was finally awarded a commission after earning his PhD in aeronautics and undergoing corrective vision surgery.

Lt. Col. Schultz went on to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle for the 391st Fighter Squadron, the “Bold Tigers” out of Mountain Home AFB in Elmore County, southwestern Idaho. He may have been deployed to the Middle East with the unit in January of 2007 according to an excerpt in an article about Schultz that said he was, “preparing for overseas combat missions in an F-15 fighter jet and training other pilots”. We were not able to find any mention in the media about a combat record for Lt. Col. Schultz or even confirmation that he did deploy to the Middle East, only that he was scheduled to deploy.

There are acknowledgements of Lt. Col. Schultz’s academic and military achievements through awards he received and brief quotes in official Air Force releases. His former commanding officer, then Lt. Col. Brian Kirkwood, said in an article on Mountain Home AFB’s official website that, “He’s a great role model.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood went on to tell the official Air Force media outlet that Lt. Col. Schultz’s “educational background is unprecedented for an [then] Air Force captain.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood made the statements when acknowledging Lt. Col. Schultz for being awarded the Outstanding Young American award.

Based on the information available in the public domain so far, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz had amassed a noteworthy academic background and career that spanned several aspects of military and experimental aviation and aerospace. It may be the combination of these experiences in tactical aircraft operations and experimental powerplants along with space operations that is particularly noteworthy.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this story.

Top image: composite made using Northrop Grumman, Dean Muskett, Phil Drake and Sammamishman

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Mysterious Crash Of A USAF Classified Jet Near Nellis AFB Fuels Speculations Of F-35 Involved

A Second Pilot Was Killed Last Week, The Air Force Isn’t Saying Which Type (Then Says “Definitely not an F-35”). He Was An F-35 Pilot.

Following the release of information about two A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft crashing over the Nevada Test and Training Range near Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas last Wednesday (after an F-16 from 162FW had crashed killing an Iraqi student pilot) there are media reports of an additional, third aircraft that also crashed, but the aircraft type and mission have not been released. Reports indicate this third crash reported happened on Tuesday, September 5, the day before the two A-10s crashed.

Reports of this earlier, third crash from this week began surfacing in local Nevada media late on Friday, September 8, two days after the reports of the two A-10s crashing.

Reports do not indicate the type aircraft that pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was flying, but a short story published on the Capital Gazette by writer Rick Hutzell said, “The aircraft was assigned to Air Force Materiel Command, which leads development of new combat technologies for the service.”

The stated mission of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) is, “To conduct research, development, testing and evaluation, and provide acquisition and life cycle management services and logistics support.” This mission set is congruent with new aircraft development.

USAF Major Christina Sukach, a spokeswoman for the 99th Air Base Wing, was reported as telling media that, “Lt. Col. Schultz died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The crash remains under investigation, and additional details were not immediately available.”

“These are separate incidents and both are currently under investigation to determine their causes,” Nellis Public Affairs told Oriana Pawlyk and Brendan McGarry, reporters for Military.com.

“Information about the type of aircraft involved is classified and not releasable,” Maj. Christina Sukach, chief of public affairs for the 99 Air Base Wing at Nellis, said in an email to Military.com.

Reports also suggest that Lt. Col. Schultz may have initially survived the mishap, and died from injuries sustained in the classified crash.

While there is no official information reporting what aircraft Lt. Col. Schultz was flying at the time of Tuesday’s crash, the only available photos of Lt. Col. Schultz show him in the cockpit of an F-35A (needless to say, meanwhile he may have moved to another program..)

USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz, flying F-35A number AF-1, releases the first-ever 2,000 pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) in tests over the China Lake Test Range on October 16, 2012 (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

According to sources, Capt. Eric Schultz became the 28th pilot to fly the F-35 when he took off from Edwards AFB, California, in F-35A AF-1 for a 1.3-hour test mission on September 15, 2011.

Additionally, the AFMC, to which the crashed aircraft belonged, is a parent unit of the 412th Test Wing, based at Edwards Air Force Base, whose 416 FLTS (Flight Test Squadron) flies the F-35 Lightning II.

For these reasons, there are growing speculations that the aircraft involved in the crash is an F-35 working inside the Nellis Test and Training Range. Still, the aircraft could also be some Black Project jet that the U.S. Air Force wants to remain secret for some more time.

An official Air Force media release on the Mountain Home AFB website from September 28, 2006 said, “As a young boy, Capt. Eric Schultz, dreamed of being an astronaut. As a young man, he couldn’t become a military pilot because of his poor eyesight. For 10 years, during which the military denied him entrance three times, he did the next best thing: earning a doctorate in aerospace engineering. But his dream of flight took off again when Schultz underwent laser eye surgery and the Air Force accepted him as a pilot.”

We will update the story as soon as new details emerge.

Update on Sept. 9, 15.14 UTC:

Looks like the F-35 theory has been debunked:

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This Photo Shows Five Italian Air Force Special Colored Aircraft (One F-35A And Four Typhoons) Flying Together

A Unique Special Color Formation. Made in Italy.

On Saturday Jun. 24, Grosseto airbase hosted the event that celebrated the 100th anniversary of five Italian Air Force squadrons: the IX Gruppo (9th Squadron, using the Roman numerals), belonging to the 4° Stormo (Wing), based at Grosseto; the X and XII Gruppo (10th and 12th Squadron), both belonging to the 36° Stormo, Gioia del Colle; the XIII Gruppo (13th Squadron), with the 32° Stormo from Amendola; and the XVIII Gruppo (18th Squadron), belonging to the 37° Stormo, based at Trapani.

Each of the centenary squadrons unveiled a special colored aircraft: the XIII Gruppo, flying the F-35A, presented the world’s first ever JSF CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) variant with special tail markings; the IX, X, XII and XVIII, that fly the Eurofighter Typhoon, unveiled their special colored F-2000A jets.

Both aircraft took part in an air-to-air shooting ahead of the Grosseto event. The photo posted above was shot during that photo session by the photographers of the Troupe Azzurra (ItAF photo team).

The photo of the formation is worth of note, not only because it includes all the new special colors, but also because the Italian Air Force is keeping a very “low profile” about its operations with the F-35. However, the ItAF has scored several firsts with its 5th Gen. aircraft. For instance, on Dec. 12, 2016, Italy became the very first country to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S.. One year before, on Dec. 3, 2015, the Italian Air Force welcomed the first F-35A assembled and delivered outside the U.S. at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy.

Then, on Feb. 5, 2016 in the hands of an ItAF test pilot, an Italian F-35 successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

Finally, the very first three F-35A special colors, including MM7336/32-05 leading the special colored aircraft formation depicted in the cool shot above.

Image credit: ItAF

 

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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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