Tag Archives: F-35

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

Work On The First European-built F-35 For The Netherlands Starts At Cameri FACO in Italy

Assembly of the first European-built F-35 for the Royal Netherlands Air Force has kicked off in Italy.

On Jun. 15, Dutch Secretary of State for Defense Barbara Visser gave a symbolic start signal to the assembly of the first F-35 for the RNlAF at Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO), in northwestern Italy. She did so by placing her signature on the hull of the AN-9, the ninth of the Netherlands’ 37 F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) stealth jets on order. The first eight F-35A are being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility in the U.S. with two F-35s already used for testing at Edwards AFB, California, and the rest heading to Luke Air Force Base for pilot training.

AN-9 will be the first F-35 to arrive in the Netherlands: the aircraft is expected to roll off the production line in February 2019. It will undertake test and acceptance flights in Italy before moving to Leeuwarden in October 2019.

On May 23, 2016, the first two Dutch F-35A aircraft, AN-1 (F-001) and AN-2 (F-002), arrived at Leeuwarden air base, in the Netherlands, at the end of the type’s first eastbound transatlantic crossing, for a short “tour” in anticipation of the type’s final arrival at the end of 2019. The two aircraft started their journey to Europe from Edwards Air Force Base, California, and crossed the Pond as “NAF 81” (then “Archer 1” and “Archer 2”) after a stopover in Patuxent River, Maryland, supported by two KDC-10s. During their brief European deployment, on Jun. 10, 2016, the two RNlAF F-35s made the type’s international airshow debut during the “Luchtmachtdagen 2016” airshow at Leeuwarden Air Base.

29 F-35A jets for the Royal Netherlands Air Force will be built at Cameri that has already assembled ten F-35A for the Italian Air Force and the first F-35B for the Italian Navy (out of 60 CTOL and 30 STOVL procured by the Italian MoD).

The Italian FACO, a 101-acre facility including 22 buildings and more than one million square feet of covered work space, housing 11 assembly stations, and five maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade bays, is owned by the Italian Ministry of Defense and is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. According to Lockheed, 800 skilled personnel are engaged in full assembly of the Conventional Take-off/Landing F-35A and F-35B aircraft variants and is also producing 835 F-35A full wing sets to support all customers in the program. It has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States and was selected in December 2014 as the European F-35 airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade center for the entire European region.

Top image: one of the first two RNLAF F-35s on the ground at Eglin AFB. Dutch staff moved from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to Edwards Air Force Base in California in January 2015 for the operational test phase. Credit: The Netherlands MoD

 

Image Of Israeli F-35 Flying Off Beirut (With Radar Reflectors) As Well As More Details About The Adir’s First Strikes Emerge

A photograph of an Israeli Air Force F-35 flying (more or less..) “over” Beirut has been made public. Interestingly, the image seems to prove the stealthy aircraft was flying with radar reflectors.

As reported yesterday, the Israeli Air Force F-35 stealth aircraft have had their baptism of fire taking part in air strike in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately. “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” 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. Interestingly, Norkin also presented an image showing an IAF F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon that was not released in first place but surfaced on social media on May 23.

Here it is:

The somehow blurry image is interesting for at least a couple of reasons: first of all, it shows the aircraft flying at high altitude off (rather than “over”) Beirut. Second, it seems to show that the aircraft was also operating with radar reflectors (highlighted in the image below), hence not in “stealthy mode”:

Highlighted in a screenshot from Israel Television News Company one of the F-35’s four radar reflectors.

Here’s what radar reflectors, also known as RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers, are as explained in a previous article this Author posted here at The Aviationist earlier this year:

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area

The two radar reflectors installed on the right side of the F-35. The other two are on the other side.

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

According to Nir Dvori, the journalist who first published the image of the stealth aircraft off Beirut seemingly flying with RCS enhancers, “they test [the F-35] in all kind of options. Fly with and without reflectors”. Indeed, the use of RCS enhancers would simply mean that stealthiness was not required for that specific mission during which they preferred to hide the aircraft’s stealth features preventing the enemy to collect data about the aircraft and test their radar hardware against the Lightning II. Moreover, the F-35 appears to be flying off Lebanon, accompanied by another aircraft (the photo ship), possibly another F-35 or a completely different type – even a G550 like those that continuously fly off Lebanon and Syria and are trackable by means of their Mode-S transponders. This means that the photo might well have been taken during a simple “recon” mission rather than a combat one. Meanwhile, according to Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer:

Not all the missions that the F-35 has so far carried out needed this [stealth] capability. They took part in an airstrike on a Hamas tunnel on the border of the Gaza Strip. Hamas does not have radar, but F-35s were used on this relatively simple mission as part of the process through which its proves it various capabilities. More complex operations against Iranian and Hezbollah targets north of Israel would have utilized its stealth capabilities and some of these did not necessarily involve the F-35 launching missiles itself.

Therefore, it seems confirmed that:

  1. Not all F-35 missions required stealth capabilities
  2. The Adir jets were also used against “easy” targets
  3. The F-35s have taken part in missions during those the Adir did not drop bombs (therefore, it probably acted as “combat battlefield coordinator,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence possibly sharing targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft).
  4. The image seems to prove the F-35 have flown at high-altitude off Beirut (someone says it might have been in international airspace, 12 Nautical Miles from the coast, when the shot was taken, but this can’t be verified based on the screenshot only).

Disclaimer: to our knowledge and based on the sources available on the Internet, those four bumps highlighted in the images you can find in this post are indeed radar reflectors. Several magazines and publications also refer to them as RCS enhancers or Luneberg lenses. Still, if we are wrong and these are EW signal emitters as someone claims, please let us know. Furthermore, the top image is a screenshot from a slide presented during a IAF conference not an actual photograph.

Exercise Joint Stars 2018 put Italian Armed Forces most advanced “hardware” to test

F-35, T-346, Typhoon, AV-8B, CAEW among the assets involved Italy’s largest exercise supported (for the first time) by the U.S. Marine Corps too.

From May 7 to 19, more than 2,000 military, 25 aircraft and helicopters, dozens of land, naval and amphibious vehicles belonging to the Italian Air Force, Navy, Army were involved in the first phase of Italy’s largest joint drills this year: Exercise Joint Stars 2018. The aim of JS18 is “to achieve the highest possible level of interoperability among the Armed Forces, with an intelligent use of all specialties, to achieve a common goal, thanks also to the development and integration of common procedures “.

Joint Stars 2018 was designed to train commands and forces on the various types of missions that could be required in future national, multinational and coalition operations and is “a valuable opportunity to achieve, through the joint training of the Italian Army, Navy and Air Force synergy and economies, as well as to share resources and maximize interoperability in the Defense field, refining the capacity for intervention with a joint force.” Unlike the previous editions, the scenario included operations conducted within an environment degraded by cybernetic and chemical-biological and radioactive threats (CBRN).

A KC-767 escorted by Typhoon, T-346, F-35, Tornado IDS, AMX and AV-8B overflies “Deci”.

The first phase of JS18 saw the integration of four “federated” exercises within a LIVEX (Live Exercise), an exercise made of actual assets. In particular, the LIVEX integrated Exercise “Vega 18” led by the Italian Air Force; “Mare Aperto 2018” led by the Italian Navy; “Golden Wings” led by the Italian Army; and “Ramstein Guard 6-2018” exercise conducted by NATO. For the very first time this year, the JS drills saw the participation of a contingent of the U.S. Marine Corps.

An Italian Navy Harrier breaks overhead for landing in Decimomannu.

Italian Army Chinook.

The MOB (Main Operating Base) of the exercise was Decimomannu, in Sardinia, that hosted most of the participating assets, including the Italian Navy AV-8B+ Harrier II and NH-90, the Italian Army CH-47 and A-129 Mangusta as well as the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and KC-130J aircraft, that took part in the airdrop onto the airfield and in a large Joint Personnel Recovery mission.

The U.S. Marine Corps Super Hercules during the airdrop onto Decimomannu airfield, MOB of JS18.

Dealing with the Italian Air Force, JS18 saw the involvement of all the most advanced “hardware” currently in service.

F-35A, Predator drones, G550 CAEW but also Eurofighter, Tornado and AMX jets flew missions aimed at achieving “Information Superiority” on the battlefield: indeed, access to and control of information has always played a crucial role in military operations. The Italian Air Force responds to this challenge with the use of highly specialized aircraft assets such as Predator, CAEW and F-35 and high-tech systems, such as the “RecceLite” and “Litening III” pods on Eurofighter, Tornado and AMX.

The F-35A Lightning II also flew as Aggressors in complex missions against the Eurofighter Typhoons.

Noteworthy, the Italian F-35A were involved also as Aggressors, alongside the T-346 aircraft: for instance, an air defense mission saw four Typhoons supported by one CAEW (“Blue Air”) fly against two T-346 and two F-35s (“Red Air”) supported by a NATO Da-20 EW (Electronic Warfare), whose role was to degrade the effectiveness of the interceptors radar and radio systems by using radar jamming and deception methods.

The T-346A of the 212° Gruppo (Squadron) from 61° Stormo were part of the Red Air.

The MQ-1C (Predator “A +”) and MQ-9A (Predator “B”) UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) were tasked with ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions; the CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft, acted as AEW as well as “flying command post” proving particularly useful to support land, naval and air forces; the brand new F-35A Lightning II stealth aircraft made use of their high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated “picture” of the battlefield that could be shared in real-time with all the players.

MV-22, CH-47 NH-90 and a pair of A-129 involved in a PR (Personnel Recovery) mission.

Taking part in a Joint Stars exercise for the very first time were also the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 and KC-130J.

Typhoon, Tornado IDS and AMX jets performed tactical reconnaissance missions on terrestrial targets using “RecceLite” and “Litening III” pods, whereas HH-139, HH-101, HH-212 helicopters along with the Eurofighter jets undertook SMI (Slow Mover Intercept) missions against NH.500 helicopter and Siai 208 light aircraft that played the “slow mover” role.

An AMX ACOL comes to landing in Decimomannu after a JS18 mission.

All the photographs in this article were taken by The Aviationist’s photographers Giovanni Maduli and Alessandro Caglieri.

Everything We Know (And Don’t Know) About Israel Launching World’s First Air Strikes Using The F-35 Stealth Aircraft

The Israeli Air Force Has Launched World’s First Air Strikes Using The F-35I Adir, IAF Chief Says.

Israel is the first country to have used the F-35 stealth aircraft in combat, the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said on Tuesday, in remarks that were made public through the IDF’s official Twitter account.

According to Haaretz, the Chief of IAF also presented images, that have not surfaced thus far, showing the F-35I over Beirut, Lebanon and said that the stealth fighter did not participate in the last strike in Syria but did in two previous ones.

“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 said.

According to local media, speaking at Herzliya conference (held earlier this month) Norkin also said that more than 100 surface-to-air missiles were fired at Israeli jets over Syria.

Whilst the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, this is the first time the IAF officially acknowledges, with very little details, the baptism of fire of its 5th generation aircraft.

Indeed, as some journalists have pointed out, it’s not completely clear where and how the F-35s were actually used. Did they strike in Syria and/or Lebanon? What kind of mission did they carry out? Actual air strike (i.e. dropping bombs) or “simple” armed (electronic) reconnaissance?

In the last few months we have observed a series of unconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is had been used to attack Syrian targets. The most recent one, that we completely debunked here, dates back to the end of March, when an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace was reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who had talked to Al-Jarida, two Adir stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

As reported back then, there were a lot of suspicious things in that story the most important of those was probably the media outlet that broke the news, Al-Jarida, often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages. In fact closing the previous article about the “mission over Iran” I wrote:

“The mission over Iran seems […] just a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

Obviously, this does not change the fact that the more they operate and test their new F-35 stealth aircraft, the higher the possibilities the IAF will use the Adirs for the real thing when needed. But this does not seem the case. At least not in Iran and not now.”

Fast forward to today news, the combat debut of the F-35I has been officially confirmed by the Israeli Air Force Chief. With no more details as to where and how the Adir were committed, it’s hard to make any further analysis. For sure, what can be said is that the IAF has proved once again its ability to pioneer combat testing of new aircraft. Although we don’t know the real stategic value of the missions undertaken by the 5th generation aircraft, it’s clear the Israeli have considered the sorties worth the risk. A risk that has become more real on Feb. 10, 2018, when one F-16I Sufa that had entered the Syrian airspace to strike Iranian targets in response to an Iranian drone that had violated the Israeli airspace (before being shot down by an AH-64 Apache helicopter) was targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses and crashed after a large long-range outdated SA-5 missile (one of 27 fired against the jets), hit the Israeli F-16. In that case, in spite the on board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

Although the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error” many sources suggested that the first downing of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions.

What kind of missions? Hard to say. We can’t but speculate here but unless there was some really critical target to hit in a heavily defended airspace, the F-35s might have been initially involved as part of larger “packages” that included other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support where the Adir jets would also (or mostly) exploit their ELINT abilities to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s systems. In fact, along with its Low Observability feature, the F-35 provides the decision makers high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield: in other words, not only can the F-35 conduct an air strike delivering bombs but it can also direct air strikes of other aircraft using standoff weapons. The F-35s are known to be able to carry out a dual role: “combat battlefield coordinators,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence data while also acting as “kinetic attack platforms,” able to drop their ordnance on the targets and pass targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft via Link-16, if needed. More or less the same task considered for the USMC F-35B that have flown this kind of missions in exercises against high-end threats in 2016.

Once again it’s worth remembering that along with the inherent risk of flying a combat mission with a brand new technology, as already reported here, the heavy Russian presence in Syria may cause some concern and somehow limit the way the Israeli used or are going to use the F-35 in combat: the Russian radars and ELINT platforms are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths. In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

Actually as pointed out by Israeli political analyst Guy Plopsky, unlike Haaretz and other local media with English pages, other Israeli media outlets (in Hebrew) quoted IAF chief as specifically stating that the IAF had “struck twice” with the F-35 on “two different fronts in the Middle East“, suggesting IAF Adir may have carried out weapons delivery…

This was later confirmed in an official post on the IAF website: “We performed the F-35’s first ever operational strike. The IAF is a pioneer and a world leader in operating air power”.

Anyway, let’s wait and see if other details emerge. For the moment let’s just take note of the first officially-confirmed combat use of the controversial F-35 Lightning II.

Top image credit: IAF