Tag Archives: F-35

President Trump Blocks Sale of F-35s to Turkey, Deepens Rift in Turkish/U.S. Relations.

Turkey Would Have Operated Both the F-35 and the Russian Engineered S-400 Missile System.

On Monday, August 13, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the new John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Named as a tribute to Arizona Senator John McCain, who is afflicted with brain cancer, the bill includes provisions that have significant implications for one of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s largest potential program participants.

In fact, the massive $716 billion U.S. Dollar defense bill, as currently written, will prevent U.S. weapons sales to Turkey for 90 days. Within the 3-month period, the DoD will have to detail how Turkey can be phased out of the production chain of the F-35 and how much this change of plans will cost the U.S. and other countries.

Turkey had planned to purchase 100 of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing variants of the Joint Strike Fighter, the same version used by the U.S. Air Force. Other countries participating in the Joint Strike Fighter Program include Australia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and South Korea. Ten Turkish companies are involved in the development and/or production of the 5th generation aircraft, with a total Turkish investment of more than $1 billion.

The move comes as Turkish pilots are already training in the United States to operate the F-35A at Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona. The training of the Turkish F-35 personnel will continue until the DoD report requested by the NDAA has been submitted to Congress for their decision on the way forward.

There are two Turkish F-35As based at Luke for the Turkish training program along with other international F-35 operators. According to a July 2, 2018 report by Air Force Times journalist Tara Copp, the Turkish F-35As, “will remain in U.S. custody for at least the next year.”

Chased by a LM two-seat F-16 the first F-35A destined to the Turkish Air Force flies over Ft. Worth. (Photo: High Brass Photo/Clinton White)

Pentagon spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Robert Manning told reporters, “Following established agreements, the U.S. government maintains custody of the aircraft until custody is transferred to the partner.” Manning added, “The U.S. government has not made a determination on Turkey’s future participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.”

The decision to delay the F-35A deliveries adds to increasing tension between Washington and the Turkish government in Ankara. Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the region for reasons including its geographic proximity to the middle east. Turkey has also been a member of NATO since 1952. The country is home to Incirlik Air Base, a massive international installation currently home to several thousand U.S. military personnel and an important base for U.S. aircraft operating over Syria and Iraq. The U.S. also stores nuclear weapons at Incirlik as a part of its deterrent strategy in the region. The proximity of the base also provides the U.S. with quick transit to Iran in the event of a crisis. Turkey also controls the passage of naval vessels transiting to and from the Black Sea, a key strategic chokepoint.

The F-35 embargo fans the flames of Turkish discontent after Washington included the country in the recent sweeping round of international trade restrictions issued by the Trump administration.

The tough trade rhetoric from Washington creates frustration not only for Turkey, but also within the U.S. and potentially for other Joint Strike Fighter program participants. Pentagon correspondent to ForeignPolicy.com, Lara Seligman, wrote that, “Several key components of the jet are manufactured by Turkish companies, and the U.S. Defense Department estimates it will take two years to find and qualify new suppliers to replace any Turkish firms that are kicked out of the program. Meanwhile, the main European hub for the F-35’s engine repair and overhaul is in Eskisehir, in northwestern Turkey.” As a result of the engine repair hub being located in Eskisehir, Turkey, maintenance delays for other European users of the F-35 could emerge while other engine repair facility provisions are arranged.

The analysis of Seligman, Copp and others reporting on the F-35 program suggest that the delay in continuing the Turkish F-35A program may be just that, a delay, as opposed to a cancellation. Seligman wrote for ForeignPolicy.com that, “Lawmakers also want the Pentagon to assess the ramifications of Ankara’s planned purchase of the S-400 system.”

A part of the controversy over Turkey’s involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter program is their use of modern Russian designed S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. (Photo: File/NOSINT)

The relatively new Russian-built S-400 “Triumf” Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system has been characterized as an “anti-stealth” air defense system that could specifically threaten the F-35A and its user nations should technology from the aircraft trickle back to Russia as they provide support to Turkey for their S-400 program. The two weapons systems being potentially operated by the same country makes for strange bedfellows. Turkey has a reputation as being a center of international intrigue, including espionage, both in fact and fiction dating back to pre-WWII years. This history underscores concerns about sharing information that may cross borders outside Turkey.

Top image: USAF F-35A. Turkey was slated to receive 100 F-35A Lightning IIs as part of the deal that has been put on hold. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Take A Look At These Photos Of Luke Air Force Base F-35s Engulfed By Sand Storm

A monsoon hit Luke AFB, Arizona, yesterday. These shots show F-35s being moved to shelters.

Not only are airfields in Afghanistan (such as the former UK’s main strategic base in the southwest Camp Bastion, Helmand) or Niger affected by sandstorms. For instance, fast moving dust storms, able to darken large areas in a very short time, regularly hit Arizona quite regularly. As happened yesterday, when a monsoon hit Luke AFB, about 15 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona, home of the 56th Fighter Wing, the largest fighter wing in the U.S. Air Force.

A thunderstorm collapses and causes air and dust to move through the atmosphere and transform into a sand storm at Nigerien Air Base 201, Niger, June 24, 2018. Air Base 201 was hit by four sandstorms throughout the last two weeks. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Jamison)

Besides some 77 F-16s, Luke is home to 68 F-35s: the base is the training hub for Lightning II’s pilot and maintainers from Australia, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and Israel. F-35 pilot training began at Luke just over a year after the 56th Fighter Wing received its first F-35A in 2014 and, according to LM, eventually, the 56th Fighter Wing will be home to 144 F-35s in the future!

The images in this post, first published by the 56th FW on their FB page, show Luke and its F-35s engulfed in dust: a pretty unique sight.

Personnel moved the F-35 to shelter.

An F-35 is secured by personnel at Luke AFB.

The sand storm provided an opportunity for 56th FW’s maintainers, airmen and partners from LM and partner nations to cope with a phenomena the 5th generation aircraft might find one day in theater.

5th generation aircraft engulfed in dust.

It would be interesting to understand the extent of damage (if any!) to the stealth aircraft’s coating, engines, avionics, etc. caused by sand.

BTW If you want to see what a similar scene looks like from inside a C-130J click here.

All images: U.S. Air Force

F-35 Stealth Aircraft Goes “Live” On Flight Tracking Websites As It Flies Mission Over Israel

An F-35, most probably one of the Adir jets recently delivered to the Israeli Air Force, appears on Flightradar24.com: deliberate action or just a case of bad OPSEC?

On Jul. 23, an F-35 went fully visible on popular flight tracking website Flightradar24.com as it performed a mission out of Nevatim airbase. The aircraft could be monitored for about 1 hour as it went “feet wet” (over the sea) north of Gaza then flew northbound to operate near Haifa.

Noteworthy, the F-35 used a US hex code (AF351F, first logged on Nov. 15, 2016 over at Live ModeS and since then regularly tracked in the US) even though it’s safe to believe it could be one of the Adir aircraft delivered to the Israeli Air Force in the last weeks. A hex code is a unique ICAO 24-bit address assigned to a Mode-S/ADS-B transponder.

According to Mil ModeS logs possible tailcode was 13-5067, even though this should be an F-35A that last June, based on the photographs available online, was assigned to the 6th Weapons Squadron, assigned to the USAF Weapons School, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Anyway, the F-35 flying over Israel yesterday did not broadcast its position via ADS-B but it could be tracked by means of Multilateration (MLAT). Using Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) MLAT measures the difference in time to receive the signal from four different receivers, to geolocate and track an aircraft even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

As we have widely explained here at The Aviationist (read here for a complete analysis):

The ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information is transmitted on 1090 MHz frequency: ground stations, other nearby aircraft as well as commercial off-the-shelf receivers available on the market as well as home-built ones, tuned on the same frequency, can receive and process this data.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder rely on a network of several hundred (if not thousand) feeders who receive and share Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders data and contribute growing the network and cover most of the planet.

Obviously, only ADS-B equipped aircraft flying within the coverage area of the network are visible.

Actually, in those areas where coverage is provided by several different ground stations, the position can be calculated also for those planes that do not broadcast their ADS-B data by means of Multilateration (MLAT). […]

Although the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track using a browser (or smartphone’s app) using the above mentioned Web-based tracking services are civil airliners and business jets, military aircraft are also equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders: a 2010 Federal Aviation Administration rule requires all military aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B transponders by Jan. 1, 2020, as part of its program to modernize the air transportation system.

As for the reasons why the aircraft could be tracked online, there are various theories. The first one is that it was a deliberate action: considered the F-35 went “live” few hours Israel made first operational use of David’s Sling missile defense system against two SS-21 Syrian ballistic missiles, there is someone who believes the mission was part of a PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies (Syria in particular). Our readers will probably remember the weird, most probably bogus claim of an IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Al-Jarida newspaper, a Kuwaiti outlet often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages.

However the Israeli Air Force has already made public the fact that the F-35 has been used in air strikes in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately.  On May 23, the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world: “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity”. He also showed a photograph of an “Adir” flying at high altitude off Beirut (with radar reflectors, hence not in “stealthy mode”). In other words, there’s probably no need to remind Syria or Iran that the Israeli Air Force has the F-35 since they are already using it in combat.

For this reason, there is also someone who believes that the first appearance of an Israeli Adir on Flightradar24 may have been a simple mistake: the Mode-S transponder was not turned off. A case of OPSEC fail in one of the most secretive air arms in the world.

Indeed, transponders are usually turned off during real operations as well as when conducting missions that need to remain invisible (at least to public flight tracking websites and commercial off the shelf receivers). Unless the transponder is turned on for a specific purpose: to let the world know they are there. In fact, as reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether some aircraft that can be tracked online broadcast their position for everyone to see by accident or on purpose: increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them. Is it a way to show the flag? Or just a mistake?

Here’s what we have been observing for some 7 years:

[…] during the opening stages of the Libya Air War in 2011 some of the combat aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net. And despite pilots all around the world know the above mentioned flight tracking websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations, making their aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection. As a consequence, we have been highlighting the the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions for years. In 2014 we discovered that a U.S. plane possibly supporting ground troops in Afghanistan acting as an advanced communication relay can be regularly tracked as it circled over the Ghazni Province. Back then we explained that the only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations. US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757 operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks), American and Russian “doomsday planes”, tanker aircraft and even the Air Force One, along with several other combat planes can be tracked every now and then on both FR24.com and PF.net.

So, what’s your take on this? The “F-35 visible over Israel” was a deliberate action or a mistake? Let us know in the comments section.

H/T to @CivMilAir and Righardt du Plessis for providing help in preparing this story. Top image credit: IAF and FR24.com

RAF Celebrates 100 Years with Spectacular Flyover in London

World’s Oldest Air Force Timed Massive Aerial Display to Perfection.

It was the first independent air force in the world; the Royal Air Force, the RAF. On Tuesday, July 10, 2018 it celebrated its 100th anniversary as the longest serving air force on the planet with a spectacular centenary aerial parade.

In celebration of its 100th Anniversary the RAF conducted a spectacular flyover Tuesday when aircraft including vintage Spitfires and brand new F-35s joined in an unprecedented historical review above The Mall and Buckingham Palace where the Royal Family turned out in full regalia to take in the observance and celebration. The U.K. have the most devoted aviation spotters and fans on earth and today’s aerial parade was an unmatched feast for veterans, photographers and aircraft enthusiasts.

Throughout its century-long history the Royal Air Force has stood for a stalwart and dignified gallantry unmatched by any other aerial service. The RAF has, since its beginning, always punched above its weight as a combat arm. From the battlefields of WWI to the tenacious and desperate homeland defense over the skies of London in the blitzkrieg of WWII and the Battle of Britain, the dam busters, the nighttime bombing raids on Germany to bush wars in Africa, the Middle East and Indochina, the RAF has always typified British toughness and heroism. The daring ultra-long range raid on the Falkland Islands by RAF Vulcan bombers in Operation Black Buck and the harrowing low-level attacks by Tornado GR1s on Iraqi runways in the Gulf War continued the illustrious record of the RAF into the jet age. Today the RAF continues the legacy with the combat proven Eurofighter Typhoon and its integration into the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter force with the newest F-35B Lightning II aircraft.

Approximately 100 aircraft, one for each of the centenary years, participated in the flyover at 1:00 PM local time in London. It was reminiscent of Russia’s Victory Day Parade, the July 2017 Chinese Zhurihe Military Training Base flyover in Inner Mongolia and North Korea’s recent conspicuous displays of military might. But, whereas some recent military aerial parades attempted to send a message of strength, the mood over London was one of quiet dignity and historical reverence for an illustrious past and hopeful future.

Aircraft in the flyover staged in a complex aerial ballet from RAF bases that included Colchester, Norfolk, Suffolk and others. The exact schedule of the launches and routes for the flyover were not made public prior to the flight citing security. The flyover ended with a review of the nine RAF demonstration team, the Red Arrows’ BAE Hawk aircraft streaming colored smoke over the route.

The flyover could also be tracked online thanks to ADS-B/Mode-S/MLAT.

It took at least 11 months of planning according to the RAF to coordinate the flights. The project was managed by Wing Commander Kevin Gatland, Chief of Staff of the Tornado force based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. A total of 17 different RAF aircraft participated in the flyover including nearly every role of aircraft in the current inventory, from surveillance and attack aircraft to tactical transports. The most conspicuous absence was the Vulcan bomber, retired from flight demonstrations in October 2015. Standing in as a spectacular representative of Britain’s heavy bomber force was a Lancaster bomber as used in the night raids over Germany and the famous “dam buster” operation. It was also the first public flight demonstration of the RAF F-35Bs.

Coordination of the flight was complex considering the first wave of aircraft, tactical helicopters, flew over the parade route at only 100 knots, while the fast jets flew over the demonstration area at over 300 knots. As a result of the disparity in speed and performance the aircraft staged in waves at appropriate, synchronized distances from their parade rendezvous point hours before the flyover. The interval between the aircraft as they converged over the parade route was only 30 seconds.

Wing Commander Kevin Gatland told reporters, “So you have a very long train of aircraft which are compressing as they get overhead central London.” As a result of the flyover, London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world, had to cease operations for approximately 20 minutes.

Media from around the world covered the event both from camera aircraft adjacent to the flyover route and from the ground. Considering the historical significance of the event the flyover could be considered a resounding success even as overcast skies held above the formations.

Two Chinooks flying over London during the parade. (Image credit: Crown Copyright).

The 100-Year Anniversary of the RAF will continue this month as the Royal International Air Tattoo will take place at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on July 13-15. It is the largest display of military aircraft in the world according to organizers with over 8 hours of flight demonstrations each day and hundreds of static displays and exhibitions.

Image credit: Crown Copyright

Operation “Lightning”: Four Italian F-35A Stealth Jets Deploy to Rivolto And Engage “Polygone” range in Germany

The Italian 5th generation jets have made another step to declare IOC (Initial Operational Capability).

On Jun. 8, for Italian Air Force F-35s, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) from Amendola airbase, landed at Rivolto, headquarters of the 2° Stormo, for their first operational deployment to another Italian airbase dubbed “Operation Lightning” (actually, the Italian Lightnings had already deployed to Decimomannu but as part of their first firing campaign in the Sardinian ranges).

During the subsequent week, the Italian stealth jets carried out a wide variety of activities including training operations with the SPADA missile systems Missile Group of the 2° Stormo. Interestingly, taking off from Rivolto and flying over Austria and Germany, the Italian F-35s also flew over “Polygone”, in Bann, Germany: the 5th generation aircraft performed an average of six sorties each day.

The activity was aimed at assessing and enhancing the skills required to conduct complex deployments far from the F-35’s main operating base and a step required to achieve the type’s Initial Operational Capability in the air-to-ground role (the IOC in the air-to-air role has already been achieved).

“Operation Lightning” came to an end on Friday Jun. 15, when the aircraft returned back to Amendola, along with the supporting personnel.

F-35 during ground refueling operations at Rivolto.

Image credit: ItAF