Tag Archives: F-35

Up close and personal with the first Saudi F-15SA, the most advanced Eagle ever built

This stunning air-to-air video shows the most advanced variant of the Eagle recently delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).

The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has officially received its first Boeing F-15SA multirole jets in a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the King Faisal Air College in Riyadh on Jan. 25, 2017.

Equipped with the APG-63V3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a digital glass cockpit, JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mouted Cueing System), Digital Electronic Warfare System/Common Missile Warning System (DEWS/CMWS), IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) system, and able to carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, including the AIM-120C7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) and the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the AGM-84 SLAM-ERs, the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) on 11 external hardpoints, the F-15SA, derived from the F-15E Strike Eagle, is the most advanced Eagle variant ever produced.

Back in 2010, the RSAF requested 84 new-built F-15SA jets and upgrade package for 68 existing Saudi F-15S fighters for a total of 152 multirole advanced Eagles through a Foreign Military Sale: a contract worth 29.4 billion USD that included logistics, spares, maintenance support and weapons was eventually signed on Dec. 29, 2011.

Therefore, instead of the 5th gen. F-35 Lightning II, Saudis (that already operate the 4th gen. Eurofighter Typhoon) opted for a 4.5th generation jet able to perform several missions, including SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses), OCA (Offensive Counter Air) and Air Interdiction with precision guided munitions from stand-off distance.

The newest aircraft’s predecessor, the Saudi F-15S, have taken part in the air strikes in Yemen, as part of Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, since Mar. 26 2015. A RSAF F-15S crashed in the Gulf of Aden during the opening day of the air war; its two pilots ejected safely and were recovered from the sea by a USAF HH-60G rescue helicopter. Although Houthi and Iranian sources stated that the Eagle was shot down, Saudi and Arab coalition authorities denied such reports.

The first F-15SAs arrived at King Khalid Air Base (KKAB) in Saudi Arabia via RAF Lakenheath, on Dec. 13, 2016, the day after the Israeli received their first 5th generation F-35I.

The first aircraft were assigned to the 55th Sqn at KKAB.

The following epic footage (produced by Combat Aircraft’s editor Jamie Hunter and Bob Hayes) shows the first F-15SAs, flying in Saudi Arabia.

Enjoy.

 

Year 2016 in review through The Aviationist’s Top 5 articles

The five top stories of The Aviationist provide the readers the opportunity to virtually review the year that is coming to an end.

Ordered by pageviews, the following 5 posts got the most pageviews and comments among the articles published on the site, and can be used to review year 2016.

Needless to say, we covered many more topics during the past year, that saw us discussing F-35, Air War on ISIS, Russian campaign in Syria, Turkish Failed Coup, RC-135 spyplanes buzzed by Su-27s, Special Operations tracked online, A-10, North Korea, Eurofighter, and much more.

Please use the search feature or select the proper category/tag to read all what was written throughout the year.

1) “Here’s what I’ve learned so far dogfighting in the F-35”: a JSF pilot’s first-hand account

Mar. 1, 2016

A Norwegian pilot shared his experience flying mock aerial combat with the F-35.

As we reported last year, the debate between F-35 supporters and critics became more harsh in July 2015, when War Is Boring got their hands on a brief according to which the JSF was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat.

Although we debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of all the F-35 variants to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of some of the most famous fourth-generation fighter, and explained that there is probably no way a JSF will ever match a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat, we also highlighted that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by WIB involved one of the very first test aircraft that lacked some cool and useful features.

Kampflybloggen (The Combat Aircraft Blog), the official blog of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office within the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, has just published an interesting article, that we repost here below under permission, written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, one of the Royal Norwegian Air Force experienced pilots and the first to fly the F-35.

“Dolby”  has more than 2200 hours in the F-16, he is a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate, and currently serves as an instructor and as the Assistant Weapons Officer with the 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

He provides a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the F-35 looks like to a pilot who has a significant experience with the F-16. His conclusions are worth a read.

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2) Russian Su-33 crashed in the Mediterranean while attempting to land on Kuznetsov aircraft carrier

Dec. 5, 2016

Less than three weeks after losing a MiG-29, it looks like the Russian Navy has lost another aircraft during Admiral Kuznetsov operations: a Su-33 Flanker.

Military sources close to The Aviationist report that a Russian Navy Su-33 Flanker carrier-based multirole aircraft has crashed during flight operations from Admiral Kuznetsov on Saturday, Dec. 3.

According to the report, the combat plane crashed at its second attempt to land on the aircraft carrier in good weather conditions (visibility +10 kilometers, Sea State 4, wind at 12 knots): it seems that it missed the wires and failed to go around* falling short of the bow of the warship.

The pilot successfully ejected and was picked up by a Russian Navy search and rescue helicopter.

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

Jun. 27, 2016

“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):

[Continue here]

4) Exclusive: all the details about the air ops and aerial battle over Turkey during the military coup to depose Erdogan

Jul. 18, 2016

F-16s, KC-135Rs, A400Ms: known and unknown details about the night of the Turkey military coup.

Here below is the account of what happened on Jul. 15, when a military takeover was attempted in Turkey. It is based on the information gathered by Turkish defense journalist Arda Mevlutoglu, by analysis of the Mode-S logs and reports that have been published by several media outlets in the aftermath of the coup.

Shortly after 22.00 local time on July 15th, air traffic control (ATC) operator in Akinci 4th Main Jet Base (MJB), an airbase located to the northwest of Ankara, contacted his counterpart at Esenboga Airport ATC. Akinci airbase is the homebase of 141, 142 and 143 Filo (Squadrons) of the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) equipped with F-16Cs.

4MJB operator informed that two local-based F-16s were going to take off, fly at 21-22,000 feet and coordination with Esenboga ATC could not be possible.

Shortly after, two F-16s calsign “Aslan 1” (“Lion 1”) and “Aslan 2” (“Lion 2”) from 141 Squadron took off from 4MJB.

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5) Russia has just deployed its most advanced spyplane to Syria

Feb. 15, 2016

A Russian Air Force Tu-214R is about to land at Latakia, Syria.

The Tu-214R is a Russian ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft. In other words, a quite advanced spyplane.

As we have already explained here in the past, it is a special mission aircraft equipped with all-weather radar systems and electro optical sensors that produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground: these images are then used to identify and map the position of the enemy forces, even if these are camouflaged or hidden.

The aircraft is known to carry sensor packages to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions: the antennae of the Tu-214R can intercept the signals emitted by the enemy systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) so as it can build the EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the enemy forces: where the enemy forces are operating, what kind of equipment they are using and, by eavesdropping into their radio/phone communications, what they are doing and what will be their next move.

[Continue here]

Note: the Tu-214R has carried out two deployments in Syria throughout the year, the first one lasting just a couple of weeks and ending on Feb. 29, the second one from Jul. 31 to Dec. 9, 2016.

 

Arrival of the first F-35A “Adir” in Israel delayed by heavy fog at departure airfield

Heavy fog forced the F-35 to the ground, delaying the arrival of the first “Adir” jets in Israel. Not a good start, on the very same day Trump slammed the program’s cost for being “out of control.”

The arrival of the first two F-35I “Adir” stealth jets in Israel was delayed because of heavy fog at Cameri airbase, the final stopover of the Lightning II aircraft on their way to Nevatim airbase, on Dec. 12.

The aircraft were initially scheduled to arrive in Israel at around 2.00PM LT but the aircraft could not depart from the Italian airbase experiencing bad weather conditions with a horizontal visibility between 250 and 700 m, with clouds at 200 feet, well below the IFR minimums for the ferry flight.

Although some immediately blamed the F-35 for the delay, it must be said that the same wx (weather) would have grounded any other modern warplane on delivery or not involved in an actual combat mission.

An unlucky start for the “Adir” that caused the ceremony, to be attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashotn Carter, to be delayed by about 5.5 hours.

As if the delay was not enough, on the very same day, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump said on Twitter that the F-35 cost is out of control, and that he would save billions on that once he takes office on Jan. 20, 2017.

As a consequence of the tweet, Lockheed Martin’s stock fell by as much as 3% and was down 2.55% as of 8:45 a.m. ET according to Business Insider.

The “attack” on the F-35 comes just one week after Trump tweeted on the costs for the replacement Air Force One.

H/T Avi Scharf for providing updates on the Adir delivery

 

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F-35 pilot explains how he dominated dogfights against multiple A-4 aggressors. Every time.

Air Combat in the F-35, a new chapter in the saga.

In March 2016, we published an article written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, a Royal Norwegian Air Force experienced pilot with more than 2,200 hours in the F-16, a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate and the first to fly the F-35.

In that post “Dolby” provided a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the controversial F-35 looked like to a pilot who had a significant experience with the F-16.

Here below, reposted under permission, you can read the latest story “Dolby” has written for Kampflybloggen (The Combat Aircraft Blog), the official blog of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office within the Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

Although it’s written by someone with a bias for the plane (he flies the F-35 as the Assistant Weapons Officer with the 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona), once again it’s worth a read as it provides some interesting details about the way the Lightning II performs during mock air combat against several adversaries.

Someone may argue the A-4 Skyhawks are quite obsolete aircraft and not even comparable with modern 4th generation enemies. True, but these are the same aggressors that train many modern combat planes (don’t forget the F-22s practice their air-to-air skills against the T-38s) and take part in Red Flag exercises.

To summarize what has been written about the F-35 dogfighting capabilities in the past:

  1. we debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of all the F-35 variants to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of some of the most famous fourth-generation fighter, and explained that there is probably no way a JSF will ever match a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat
  2. at the same time we also highlighted that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by War Is Boring according to which the JSF was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat involved one of the very first test aircraft that lacked some cool and useful features.
  3. more recently, we reported that the F-35 were not shot down by the F-15E aggressors in 8 engagements during recent joint drills, and that it was not the first time the F-35 proved itself able to fly unscathed through a fighter-defended area because not a single Lightning II was shot down during Green Flag 15-08, the first major exercise during which the F-35 flew as main CAS (Close Air Support) provider in 2015.

Needless to say, each of the above news stories caused much debate, with many analysts suggesting the exercises where the F-35 performed fairly well were just PR stunts arranged in such a way the JSF could not be downed, and others claiming more or less the opposite.

Whatever you think, here’s the new story by “Dolby.”

Air Combat in the F-35 – an update

In this post I’m giving a brief overview of my impressions after having flown several sorties over the past few weeks against A-4 Skyhawks. This post is intended as a supplement to my previous posts on modern air combat and stealth.

First thing first – is it relevant to train air combat against an old A-4? Can we draw any relevant lessons from this at all? After all, this is an aircraft that served during the Vietnam war!

I believe this kind of training is relevant for several reasons:

  • The F-35’s sensors and “fusion” provides me as a pilot with good situational awareness. For an F-35 to simulate an opponent against another F-35, it has to restrict the effects of fusion and the various sensors. Even then it is difficult to “dumb down” the aircraft enough. It requires discipline to not be tempted to using information that an opponent in reality would not have access to.
  • The A-4s we faced in these exercises had sensor performance along the lines of our own upgraded F-16s. They also carried jammers intended to disturb our radar.
  • The pilots we faced were very experienced. We are talking 2000 hours plus in aircraft like the F-16, F-15E, F-15C and the F-22, with detailed knowledge of “fifth generation” tactics and weapons. When also cooperating closely with intercept controllers on the ground (GCI) they could adapt the training and offer us a reactive and challenging opponent. Note the word “reactive.”
  • The A-4 is a small aircraft with a corresponding signature. Many potential opponents in the air are bigger and easier to find than the tiny A-4.

So what did I experience in my encounters with the A-4? I got to try out several different sets. (Everything from one-on-one “Basic Fighter Maneuvers” to one F-35 against two A-4s, two F-35s against two A-4s, two F-35s against four A-4s and three F-35s against four A-4s). I am left with some main impressions.

  • The individual sensors of the F-35, one for one, are good. I flew one sortie alone against two A-4s, and limited myself to using only the radar during these sets (no support from ground controllers, no Link-16, no data sharing from other formation members, no support from passive radar warning systems or IFF – Identification Friend or Foe). Nonetheless my radar detected the targets in time for me to optimize my intercept, deliver weapons at range, and if necessary, arrive undetected to the visual arena.
  • “Fusion” means both automatic control of the various sensors, and the combination of all different sensor data into one unified tactical picture. I believe “fusion” to be one of the most important aspects of the F-35. “Fusion” allows me to focus on the tactics, rather than detailed management of my sensors. In my encounters with the A-4s, “fusion” worked better than I have seen it before. It was reassuring to see how well it worked. The good «situational picture» that I saw provides us with several advantages; we can make smarter tactical decisions, and it takes less time before we can gain full “tactical value” from fresh pilots. (I had to smile a little when two of us in the F-35s effortlessly kept tabs on four opponents. That is no trivial thing in the F-16.)
  • The most important lesson for me personally was to see just how hard it was for the A-4s to find us, even with GCI support. We deliberately made high-risk tactical decisions to see just how far we could stretch our luck, and still remain undetected. At least for my part, this reinforced my confidence in the effectiveness of our tactics. I hope all my colleagues in the F-35 get to have the same experience as I have.

(BFM – F-35 against A-4, might not be fair. Still, the A-4 started as the offensive part every time. At the end of each set, I was pointing at the A-4. Every time.)

Image credit: RoNAF via Lockheed Martin

 

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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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