Tag Archives: F-35

Here Are The Highlights of ILA Berlin 2018 Air Show

Rich static display and modest dynamic program for an airshow with many interesting “themes”.

Last weekend we attended the ILA Air Show held at the Berlin Schönefeld airport. The event, one of the largest aerospace trade exhibitions held in Germany, was organized by the German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI) and Messe Berlin GmbH.

Volker Thum, Chief Executive of the BDLI, reported outstanding results: “This ILA was the ’best ILA ever‘. We have continued to develop the world’s oldest aviation and space exhibition with conspicuous success, making it our industry’s leading trade show for innovation.”

The dynamic displays in Germany are somewhat limited by the strict regulations pertaining to, i.e. the minimum altitudes and display envelope limits, which partially resulted from the Frecce Tricolori crash at the Ramstein Air Base, back in 1988. Therefore, ILA is not really a place where you go to admire the dynamic displays in their full glory. However, the static display in Berlin was one of the most impressive one could ever witness.

The Antonov An-225 Mriya was definitely one of the show’s highlights. The Antonov Design Bureau decided to send the giant aircraft to Berlin, and it was displayed on the static. Compared to any other airframe, the Mriya is simply enormous. Even the A380 which is the largest commercial airliner in existence looked small, compared to the Ukrainian airlifter.

The giant An-225

Antonov’s presence at ILA stemmed from the fact that the company decided to declare its willingness to increase its involvement in the NATO SALIS (Strategic Airlift International Solution) program. It was in April this year when Volga-Dnepr airlines, the only (alongside Antonov) operator of the An-124 heavy airlifters, resigned from its involvement in the program. The Russians will cease rendering of the services for NATO as of Jan. 2019, reportedly due to restructuring; however it is also very plausible that decisions made are a response to the increased pressure caused by the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. Antonov declared, during the ILA event, that it could increase its SALIS engagement to replace the Russian operator with its fleet of An-124, An-22 and An-225 aircraft (only a single example of the latter one exists).

The static display also featured Airbus Beluga, placed alongside the Airbus’s largest passenger aircraft, the A380. The particular airliner displayed in Berlin was the 100th airframe delivered to the Emirates airline. Even though Beluga is not larger than the A380, its appearance and size are definitely a sight to behold.

Airbus A350 during its dynamic display at ILA.

Airbus, Leonardo and Dassault consortium also premiered the EUROMALE UAV, the first unmanned aerial system (UAS) designed for flight in non-segregated airspace. The airframe is a twin-turboprop with pusher-propeller design employed.

Another prevalent theme that somehow influenced the Berlin exhibition is the German Tornado strike aircraft replacement. The static display was rich in modern fighter aircraft. The Germans are looking to replace their Tornados, in strike and electronic warfare variants (IDS and ECR respectively). Luftwaffe currently operates 90 of these jets, and the replacement process is to begin in 2025. Alongside Germany, Finland (H-X program) and Poland (Harpia program) are also looking forward to modernize their air forces.

The GAF Typhoon taking off for its display.

Germany and France are also working on a joint next generation fighter program – FCAS – with the jet expected to be introduced into service in 2040. The program involves Airbus and Dassault. Notably, both companies are currently offering advanced 4th generation designs: Eurofighter and Rafale. However, given the scope of technological development and industrial effort required to create the 5th generation jet, the project’s joint nature is a natural way to go. Also, considering the timeline for introducing the new aircraft, some intermediary measure would be required to fill in the capability gap that would occur, once the Tornadoes are withdrawn. This is the main reason why the Germans are still considering procurement of 4+ or 5th generation fighters in the meantime.

Airbus, during the ILA event, declared that the company is ready to make the Typhoon nuclear capable. Nonetheless, some voices suggest that instead of acquiring more Eurofighters, the Germans could make some steps towards purchasing the fifth generation F-35 aircraft. The static display also featured F-15 Eagle and F/A-18F Super Hornet. To meet the Luftwaffe’s electronic warfare requirement, Boeing could also offer its EA-18G Growler jet. One should note that Luftwaffe is expressly claiming that the F-35 would be the best fit for the replacement program. Two such aircraft were displayed in the static area. It should also be noted that an F-35/Typhoon combo has also already been selected by some nations as the way to go, including the RAF or the Italian Aeronautica Militare. It is evident that the jets are complementary, with the F-35 acting primarily as the sensor and situational awareness asset (using its stealth and net-centric properties), while the Typhoon may be acting as the missile carrier, adding to the performance of the missiles. Given the Typhoon’s thrust-to-weight ratio, and integration with the Meteor BVR AAM, the jet is a perfect platform that enhances the kinetic performance of the already very capable air-to-air effector.

The F-35 was not flying during the German show.

All of the aforesaid aircraft were displayed within the static area. Unfortunately, and disappointingly, the F-35 was not flying during the German show, despite its expected and rumored presence in the air. Notably, the F-35, while flying to make it debut in Germany also made the longest nonstop flight – 11 hours and 10 aerial refueling operations.

Tornados and Eurofighters were flying during ILA. Moreover, “Ghost Tiger” livery Typhoon had its premiere during the show in Berlin, with a quite impressive dynamic display. The very same jet will be displayed during the NATO Tiger Meet happening in Poznan this month (needless to say, we will be attending this event as well).

The Germans are also looking forward to replace their CH-53G heavy lift helicopters. The proposed replacements include the CH-53K King Stallion that made its debut during the ILA Show. However, on Saturday, when we attended the event, neither could it be seen flying, nor was it present in the static display area. Another proposal that Luftwaffe may look at is the CH-47 Chinook. This capable airframe was brought to Germany by the RAF and it was wearing the RAF centenary livery. Its transport capabilities and agility (impressive, given its size) were also presented during the dynamic display.

Berlin is working, in collaboration with France, on acquiring a new MPA platform. This could also have been witnessed in the static display, with Lockheed P-3, Boeing P-8 and CASA C295 MPA all showcased on the show’s ground. Kawasaki P-1 was a highlight of the German show. Not only was this jet presented on the ground, but also performed an impressive dynamic display. The Japanese design is undoubtedly a rare sight on any European air show. Roadmap for the said project is expected to be unveiled later this year.

The Japanese Kawasaki P-1 was among the highlights of ILA 2018.

Another highlight of the dynamic display that could not have been overlooked was the Il-2 Sturmovik aircraft brought to Berlin by the Russians. The venerable WWII fighter/bomber performed a dynamic display over the ILA 2018 grounds. Many of the people attending the show have seen the aircraft for the first time ever. It is said that only two flying examples exist. We have already seen the famous Russian airframe fly last year, during the MAKS 2017 event, when it was premiered. Vintage aircraft also included Yak-3 and CAC13 Boomerang as well – both were flying a dynamic display. We could also see a Bell 47 that flew with the MASH series soundtrack in the background.

Airbus showcased its A350 airliner in the air. The Luftwaffe staged several role displays (interception/scramble, with Pilatus turboprop acting as the intruder, CSAR operation, MEDEVAC operation), as well as an air parade, featuring the German aircraft in a variety of formations and configurations, including a great number of helicopters ranging from H145 with CH-53 Stallion to finish with.

Furthermore, Red Bull also showcased its aircraft in the air, including the DC-6, silver P-38 Lightning, the T-28 Trojan with its special smoke trails (the smoke generators in case of this aircraft are mounted in the wingtips which makes the smoke swirl and form rings in the sky) and the Alpha Jet that made a joint formation flight.

Dynamic display was also performed by the Spanish team Patrulla Aguilla that showcased its formation flying skills in the German sky. Their display was one of the highlights of the German event, as the Spanish team was the only large formation aerobatic group that attended the show in Berlin.

Overall, the show was impressive, especially when it comes to the static display and it was a good warm-up before the proper air show season begins in May. Anyway, it is going to be very interesting to watch and follow the developments in the European fighter aircraft programs. The competition and choices expected to be made between 4+ and 5th generation aircraft will undoubtedly be tough, in case of the European nations that would be facing such a challenge: Finland, Poland and Germany.

Images: Jacek Siminski and Michał Prokurat

PS We’ve also met the Sturmovik during its return trip at the Poznan International Airport, as it made a refuelling stop there! Thanks for organization of the visit go to Witold Łożyński and the Ławica airport staff!

Why Does the Public Have Trouble Understanding the F-35? Air Force Reserve Pilots Tell Us Why the F-35A is a Powerful Force Multiplier

“Think of the Apple computer when it was first built in the 1970s and the iPhone now. That is the difference we are talking about.”

That’s how U.S. Air Force Reserve Major Scott Trageser, callsign “Worm”, described the single largest benefit of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program for the U.S. Air Force Reserve and USAF along with other F-35 partner nations.

Maj. Scott “Worm” Trageser and Capt. Mark “Quatro” Tappendorf of the Air Force Reserve 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, from Hill AFB, Utah, spoke to TheAviationist.com about their Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting II aircraft before flying an aerial refueling training mission over the Atlantic Ocean with KC-10 Extender aerial tankers from the 514th Air Mobility Wing of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst last week.

Air Force Reserve F-35A Lightning II pilots Maj. Scott “Worm” Trageser and Capt. Mark “Quatro” Tappendorf meet reporters at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst last week. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

“The ability to put all this new software, new radar technology, new electronic warfare in a thing called ‘fusion’ and package it in a low-observable platform. It is a huge advantage. I can get in there and kill their guy before he sees me, both air-to-air and air-to-ground.”

Maj. Trageser and Capt. Tappendorf described perhaps the single most significant force multiplier of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, and likely the most misunderstood.

Think of how you use your smartphone connected with your car: While driving you get directions, find restaurants, make reservations and invite friends for dinner. You can even voice-text them to bring a gift to dinner or change the location of the event while on your way. Your car’s sensors help you stay in your lane and avoid collisions with other moving cars while you communicate. A new app you just downloaded tells you if there is a speed trap ahead or if there are delays along the way. Your smartphone and car integrates to become a driving systems manager, social coordinator and concierge directed by you through voice communication.

Envision a similar, hardened “smart” networking capability flying into a heavily defended airspace, collecting information about ever-changing defenses and defeating them while remaining nearly impossible to detect, finding and automatically prioritizing multiple targets in the air and on the ground even as they change, securely sharing that information with other weapons systems and even employing their weapons against multiple targets, all while going up to Mach 1.5+.

In the F-35, there’s an app for that.

An F-35A Lightning II being maintained by ground crew from Hill AFB during its first visit to Selfridge ANGB in Michigan last year.

Proliferate that force-multiplying capability by sharing it with your most trusted friends who help bring the overall program cost down with a group buy-in, and you have a rudimentary understanding of the F-35 program concept.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as a whole passed a major milestone last week when it accomplished the final developmental test flight of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the program on April 12, 2018.

The System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase was a massive, historically unprecedented flight test and development program that has, “Operated for more than 11 years mishap-free, conducting more than 9,200 sorties, accumulating over 17,000 flight hours, and executed more than 65,000 test points to verify the design, durability, software, sensors, weapons capability and performance for all three F-35 variants” according to U.S. Navy Vice Admiral. Mat Winter, Director, Joint Strike Fighter Program, Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Vice Adm. Winter went on to say, “Congratulations to our F-35 Test Team and the broader F-35 Enterprise for delivering this new powerful and decisive capability to the warfighter.” Vice Adm. Winter’s remarks were published in an April 12, 2018 media release by Lockheed Martin.

An F-35A Lightning II pilot from from Hill AFB wearing his carbon fiber flight helmet equipped with the Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS).

Eleven years ago, when the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter SDD program began the U.S. Department of Defense said in an official statement that:
“Nine nations are partnering in the F-35’s SDD phase: The United States, United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia. Partnership in SDD entitles those countries to bid for work on a best value basis, and participate in the aircraft’s development. Additionally, Israel and Singapore have agreed to join the program as a Security Cooperation Participants.”

But the F-35 program headlines also include speed bumps associated with any major international technology program and there are still many (for someone “too many”) things yet to be fixed.

Defensenews.com’s Valerie Insinna reported in an April 12, 2018 article that, “The Pentagon has suspended acceptance of most F-35 deliveries as manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the F-35 program office debate who should be responsible for fixing jets after a production issue last year.”

Insinna quoted a Lockheed spokeswoman as saying, “While all work in our factories remains active, the F-35 Joint Program Office has temporarily suspended accepting aircraft until we reach an agreement on a contractual issue and we expect this to be resolved soon.”

In another March 5, 2018 report by program expert Insinna, she reported that, “Stealth features [are] responsible for half of F-35 defects.”
But the F-35 operators seem to consider these delays minor given the ambition and scope of the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter vision, a program that Time magazine called, “The costliest weapons program in human history.”

Two F-35A Lightning IIs participated in an integrated air superiority and close air support demonstration at Nellis AFB during the Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo in November, 2017.

Commensurate with the massive costs associated with F-35, the program has changed nearly every aspect of the modern battlefield, from gender integration to insurgent tactics.

For the first time ever, a woman took command of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing, the Air Force’s only reserve F-35A fighter wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Colonel Regina “Torch” Sabric assumed command on April 14, 2018 from Col. David “Shooter” Smith, who previously served as the commander since November 2015.

According to an official release from Hill AFB, “Sabric will lead more than 1,200 reservists who train in F-35 operations, maintenance, and mission support, along with a medical squadron. These reservists serve part-time – at least one weekend per month and two weeks per year – and train to the same standard as active duty.”

Colonel Sabric’s command of the 419th marks multiple milestones for U.S. air power that include integration of reserve assets, gender equality and operational deployment of what is arguably the most advanced air combat technology on earth.

An F-35A Lightning II of the 466th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah under a KC-10 tanker during a training mission over New Jersey last week.

At the same time and half way around the globe, the arrival of F-35I Adir aircraft into operational Israeli service on December 6, 2017 has somehow struck fear in Israel’s adversaries and, as part of what was probably a PSYOPS campaign, the presence of the aircraft in Israeli service has sparked unsubstantiated rumors that it has already been used in secret air strikes and missions in Syria or Iran. It is likely that air defenses in the region have already had to make adaptations to try to counter the threat of the new Israeli F-35Is, even though it is unlikely they have yet to be flown in combat. Merely the arrival of Israel’s F-35Is has already begun to change the battlespace in the region, giving Israel a powerful new deterrent.

Before Maj. Scott “Worm” Trageser and Capt. Mark “Quatro” Tappendorf left our briefing to prepare for our refueling mission over the Atlantic, Maj. Trageser told us, “We used to have over 50 fighter squadrons in the combat air force, now we have around 26.” That has made the quality over quantity and force-multiplier integration of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program even more relevant.

At the Tip of the Spear: Midair Refueling F-35As and F-15Cs With the USAF 514th Air Mobility Wing.

We Flew a Refueling Mission with the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and F-15C Eagle.

Four miles above the open Atlantic I’m sitting in the cockpit of a KC-10 tanker with a hundred tons of explosive jet fuel under me. We’re flying at about 400 MPH. We gingerly inch upward toward another 181-foot long tanker aircraft. That enormous aircraft is only 30-feet away now.

And the air is getting rough.

Lt. Col. Brian Huster of the 78th Air Refueling Squadron of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, sitting left seat, pilot in command, works the plane’s control yoke like an arm wrestler in a cowboy bar. It swings forward and back, left and right through alarmingly large arcs. Despite, or rather because of, his rather physical control inputs our giant tanker remains rock steady. He somehow anticipates every buffet from the turbulent air coming off the vortex of the plane in front of us, anticipating control inputs to keep our KC-10 motionless under the big tanker only feet above our heads in the 400 MPH slipstream four miles above the freezing ocean.

We inch closer to the other aircraft, it’s massive hulk filling our windscreen above our heads. The refueling boom passes several feet over us, just feet from our windscreen. There is a low “clunk” above my right ear. We make contact with the tanker above us and the ride becomes decidedly smoother. Lt. Col. Huster’s job becomes a good bit easier now.
I’ve just joined the small fraternity of people who have refueled in a jet aircraft in midair.

As our KC-10 buffets in turbulence beneath another tanker, USAF Lt. Col. Brian Huster flies our aircraft onto the refueling boom. (All photos: Tom
Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

I’m flying with the 514th Air Mobility Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve, out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst on America’s east coast. The 514th AMW is one of two units in the U.S. Air Force flying the KC-10 Extender. In addition to performing the air refueling mission the versatile KC-10 can also carry substantial cargo payloads over 4,000 miles making this aircraft an important strategic asset. Not only can the KC-10 support tactical aircraft in the midair refueling role, it can also deploy with their support crews and mission critical gear around the world, providing a unique combined tanker and cargo capability for rapid response around the globe.

Only two USAF units operate the KC-10 Extender.

We’re back over the U.S. mainland now. I’ve moved from the cockpit of our giant KC-10 tanker all the way back to the refueling bay in the rear of the aircraft. By comparison to other aerial tankers the KC-10’s refueling bay is spacious and comfortable. Strapped into my own seat just right of the boom operator I have a panoramic view of the earth 22,000 feet below. Broken cumulus at 10,000 feet over the snow-patched green east coast farms of New Jersey slowly cascade beneath us.

In utter silence a ghostly grey F-35A Lightning II slips under us from the right side of the aircraft. It’s eerie how quiet it is. Like a real-world Darth Vader its pilot sits under a tinted canopy wearing his custom carbon fiber helmet that interacts with the F-35A’s many sensors and systems. And exactly like a character from Star Wars his helmet helps the F-35A pilot see and hear everything around him throughout angles and at distances that would be impossible for normal human senses. My first impression looking down on the joint strike fighter pilot 30-feet from us is that he is a real-world cyborg, a living part of an advanced next generation machine that shares information with other aircraft and weapons systems, monitors the entire battlespace with clairvoyant reach and awareness and reacts almost automatically. The pilot under that custom carbon fiber helmet is the brains of it all.

An F-35A Lightning II forms up off our right wing before taking on fuel.

I had read the stories about midair refueling. The drama of the 6,800-mile-long Black Buck mission by the RAF to attack the Falkland Islands after the Argentinean invasion in 1982. The desperate tanker missions over North Vietnam in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s to save pilots from ejecting and being imprisoned in the Hỏa Lò POW camp, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. In 2016 CNN’s Zack Cohen reported on a story that apparently still remains partially classified. An F-16 from an unspecified country could not access his onboard fuel during a 2015 combat mission over ISIS held territory. As was the tragic case of both a Jordanian and Russian combat pilot, going down over ISIS held territory is a death sentence for a combat pilot even if he does survive the ejection. The tanker crew flew with the malfunctioning F-16, refueling the aircraft every 15 minutes to keep it in the air until it reached safety. I also read USAF Lt. Col. Mark Hasara’s excellent book, “Tanker Pilot, Lessons from The Cockpit”. In the literature of aviation history, there are too many stories of heroism and daring by tanker crews to recount.

None of the books or history lessons or classes in the military prepared me for the real-life science fiction of what is unfolding in front of me now.

Two F-35A Lightning IIs rendezvous with our aircraft to take on fuel.

With unusual grace and almost slow-motion gentleness the F-35A tucks under us and smoothly levitates upward toward our refueling boom. As a practical courtesy, our boom operator sitting to my left scoots the refueling boom over the right side of our aircraft, away from the dark-tinted canopy of the F-35A as it inches forward. Two small doors cantilever open on the F-35A’s back. The refueling receptacle on the F-35A is behind the cockpit where the pilot has to observe it with some kind of a sensor, maybe in his helmet, maybe from training, maybe both- it likely remains part of the vast amount of classified information about the F-35A.

Our refueling boom connects with the F-35A in one smooth attempt. A whirring noise over my head tells me fuel is flowing from our tanks into the F-35A now. The pilot below us glances up at us through his canopy, and I get goosebumps. This is the manifestation of the most modern warfighting capability on earth. The combination of the F-35A and the KC-10 grant the U.S. Air Force the ability to strike anytime, in any conditions, with impunity and without detection.

An F-35A Lightning IIs approaches the refueling boom.

Just a few feet below us the F-35A Lightning II remains rock-steady on the tanker boom. High overcast gives way to broken cloud and a spectacular backdrop of the Atlantic opens up beneath us. The lighting changes for the better, and I am hammering away at the shutter release on my camera.

In the history and literature of midair refueling there are countless stories of how difficult and dangerous it can be, but this crew makes the task look quiet, relaxed and effortless. Of course, this is daytime and the weather is fine. At night, in a thunderstorm, over enemy territory while low on fuel and with battle damage, it is an entirely different affair.

Aerial refueling started on a regular basis after WWII using techniques developed largely by the RAF and later improved upon by the USAF. In 1949, a USAF B-50 Superfortress, an up-engined version of the B-29, completed a non-stop circumnavigation of the earth using aerial refueling. According to historical references, nearly every mission flown during the Gulf wars and the Global War on Terror included aerial refueling.

In January 2017, B-2 Spirit long-range bombers used a total of 15 aerial tankers, both KC-10s and KC-135s, to fly a non-stop 30-hour strike mission against ISIS targets in Libya. The strategic implications of aerial refueling have completely changed the reach of U.S. airpower, effectively putting every place on the globe within range of a relief mission, security flight or strike mission from a U.S. base somewhere in the world. It has also subverted diplomatic constraints on U.S. air operations, granting virtual impunity to the air assets of our nation in the global theater. When France, Spain and Italy prohibited overflight of U.S. F-111 strike aircraft during the 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon, the U.S. air strike on Libya in retaliation for a terrorist bombing in West Berlin where U.S. servicemen died, the aircraft had to fly an additional 1,300 miles. They simply used aerial refueling to fly around those countries.

The fly-by-wire refueling boom on the KC-10 Extender.

Especially in recent conflicts where air power is critical, the message is clear: Aerial refueling is a powerful strategic and tactical force multiplier.

The two F-35As refuel quickly and smoothly, on and off our boom in eerie near-silence. They scoot to our right wing as a beautiful two-tone F-15C Eagle slides into place below our tanker. The contrast between the fifth-generation F-35A and the F-15C is immediately apparent. The F-15C Eagle is from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. The Eagle joins us from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts. She takes fuel through her left forward wing root. Sliding into place on the tanker boom is a different procedure than the F-35A. Our Eagle driver plugs into the tanker boom on the first attempt. Fuel begins to whir into his gas tanks from the refueling boom over our heads.

Our tanker spends almost three hours “tanking” F-35s and an F-15C as it enters a wide oval racetrack pattern over the eastern U.S. I can’t help but wonder what this looks like from the ground, or if anyone down there even notices the aerial ballet unfolding four miles above them.

An F-15C takes on fuel.

This is the jubilance of flight, the wide-open view of the refueling window, the close company of the exotic fighters. Nothing in aviation matches this experience. One of our boom operators, TSgt. Rob White, a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, and “more” he doesn’t want printed, has 2000 hours in the boom seat of a tanker, 500 of them in combat. He has been tanking planes for over 7 years and has put gas on board every aircraft in the U.S. arsenal with aerial refueling capability and many allied aircraft as well. He tells me the most interesting aircraft he refueled was an Australian P-3 Orion maritime patrol plane.

Jan Mack of TheAviationist.com tapes an aircraft taking on fuel as our boom operator flies the refueling boom.

Well before I’d like to we’ve left the tanker track and are descending back toward Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to land. We talk about the future of KC-10 Extender, destined for eventual replacement by the new, modernized Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tanker. But a report by Samantha Masunaga for the Los Angeles Times published on April 11, 2018 says the new KC-46 may not be ready for the Air Force as soon as originally expected.

Masunaga reports, “Delivery of the first KC-46 aircraft — last planned for August 2017 — is now expected to be more than a year late, and technical issues have cropped up during development and testing.”

The new KC-46 will use several advanced systems that include a boom operators’ station served by a video feed from the rear of the aircraft instead of the wide window only feet from the aircraft taking on fuel in the KC-10. There are advantages to the new system, and the KC-46 represents a leap forward for the USAF tanker fleet, especially over the aging KC-135 tankers that are even older than the KC-10. But I will miss the view out of the back of the KC-10. If you love aircraft and our Air Force as much as I do, that seat at the back of a KC-10 is the best view in the world.

The Aviationist wishes to thank the 514th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Office and Lt. Col. Kimberly Lalley for their generous assistance in the preparation of this report.

Here’s Why The Claim That Two Israeli F-35 Stealth Jets Entered Iranian Airspace Does Not Make Any Sense

Two Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 stealth fighters flew over Syrian and Iraqi airspace to reach Iran, report says. Most probably, just fake news or PSYOPS.

The Jerusalem Post has just published an article, that is slowly spreading through the social media, about an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who talked to Al-Jarida, earlier this month, two Aidr 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.

Here’s an excerpt (highlight mine):

“The report states that the two fighter jets, among the most advanced in the world, circled at high altitude above Persian Gulf sites suspected of being associated with the Iranian nuclear program. It also states that the two jets went undetected by radar, including by the Russian radar system located in Syria. The source refused to confirm if the operation was undertaken in coordination with the US army, which has recently conducted joint exercises with the IDF.

The source added that the seven F-35 fighters in active service in the IAF have conducted a number of missions in Syria and on the Lebanese-Syrian border. He underlined that the fighter jets can travel from Israel to Iran twice without refueling.

There are many weird things.

First of all the source. Al-Jarida is often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages, according to several sources. For instance, here’s how Haaretz commented a previous scoop of the Kuwaiti outlet (again, highlight mine):

“Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.

Then, the Israeli Air Force operates more than seven F-35s (at least 9) and their range (about 2,000 km) does not allow the aircraft in stealth mode (i.e. without external fuel tanks) to fly to Iran, twice, without stopover or aerial refueling.

And, above all, although 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, it’s highly unlikely such a mission, if real, would be leaked.

Although the IAF has a long history of pioneering new aircraft and use new weapons systems in real combat pretty soon, this has usually happened for quite complex and daring missions with a real stategic value. In this case, flying a couple of its few new F-35s for a “simple” reconnaissance mission over Iran would not be worth the risk. And what would be the purpose of carrying out this mission and leaking the news? A “show of force” for deterrence? Or to demostrate the world (and the regional opponents) the IAF’s ability to freely operate inside the Syrian and Iranian airspaces, especially after suffering the loss of an F-16I earlier this year?

Indeed, on Feb. 10, 2018, Israeli F-16 fighter jets entered Syrian airspace, striking 12 Iranian targets in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that was shot down over Israel by an AH-64 Apache helicopter. One F-16I Sufa crashed during the air strikes, after being targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses. Many sources suggested that the first loss 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. This is true, even though rushing a new and somehow immature aircraft into combat has some inherent risks.

In his story about the F-35I IOC (Initial Operational Capability) at The War Zone, journalist Joseph Trevithik wrote:

With limited numbers of the jets on hand, the IAF will have to decide whether or not to make a statement or make sure the aircraft it does have are in reserve for contingencies that absolutely require their advanced capabilities, such as quelling a more imminent threat against Israel itself or attacking targets over-long range that are defended by an advanced integrated air defense assets.

I completely agree.

This is what I wrote here at The Aviationist about the F-35 Adir’s possible involvement in the air strikes on Syria, you can expand it to consider the even more dangerous scenario in Iran:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: 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.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

There have been a series ofunconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is have been used to attack Syrian targets, but there is no confirmation that the jets have flown any combat missions yet. The mission over Iran seems to be just one of these: 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.

Anyway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will update this post accordingly.

Here’s South Korea’s First F-35A Lightning II Stealth Aircraft During Its Maiden Flight

The first F-35 destined to the ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) has successfully completed its first flight.

On Mar. 19, 2018, the first F-35A destined to the ROKAF performed its maiden flight at Lockheed Martin Ft. Worth facility, Texas. Piloted by LM F-35 Chief Test Pilot and Test Flight Director Alan Norman, the aircraft flew as “Lightning 41”, taking off at 14.48LT and landing at 16.40LT. The photo in this post was taken by Highbrass Photography’s Clinton White during South Korea’s F-35’s first sortie (designated C01).

Known as AW-1, the aircraft is the first South Korean 5th generation combat aircraft out of 40 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) variant jets that the ROKAF with all aircraft slated for delivery by 2021.

The Republic of Korea concluded its F-X III fighter acquisition program with the signing of a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) between the U.S. and Korean governments on Sept. 30, 2014. In December 2017, South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration established a process for procuring the 20 additional aircraft, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple government sources.

Make sure to visit Clinton White’s Flickr photostream for more cool shots (including many F-35s)!

H/T to Emiliano Guerra for the heads up.