Tag Archives: F-35B

This Footage *Allegedly* Shows A Russian MiG-31 Shooting Down A Cruise Missile In The Stratosphere.

According to the Russian MoD this video shows a Russian MiG-31 Foxhound taking down a cruise missile.

According to the press center of the Pacific Fleet of Russia, a Russian Navy MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor launched from the Kamchatka Peninsula, intercepted a supersonic cruise missile in the stratosphere during exercises that were conducted on the eve of the celebration of the Day of Naval Aviation.

The missile was launched from the water area of the Sea of Okhotsk at an altitude of more than 12 kilometers at a speed three times the speed of sound, Pravda new outlet reported.

The Mig-31 Foxhound is a two-seat Mig-25 Foxbat derivative in service since 1983.

Whilst the MiG-25 was built as a high-speed, high-altitude interceptor, capable of reaching the speed of Mach 3.2 to intercept American B-58 and B-70 bombers, the MiG-31 was designed to intercept the B-1B bomber, which was designed to operate at low-level, below the radar coverage.

The MiG-31 has quite good low-level capabilities (which MiG-25 does not) and is equipped with an advanced radar with look-down-shoot-down capability (needed to detect low-flying bombers), and data bus, allowing for coordinated attack with other fighters.

The production of the Mig-31, one of the world’s fastest tactical fighter in active service with top speed of Mach 2.83 and a range of 1,450 km, ended in the early 1990s, but the interceptor is being upgraded to extend its operative life up to the 2028 – 2030.

The Russian MiG-31BM jet, capable to carry up to four long-range R-33 missiles and four short-range R-77 missiles, was expected to carry a weapon able to shoot down space satellites; according to some sources, the ability to intercept a cruise missile, previously Kh-55 and now Kh-101, is something practiced by the Russian Foxhounds for years.

The video below, released by the Russian MoD, is said to show the test conducted on Jul. 17 (even though the actual interception of the cruise missile can’t be seen.)

Generally speaking, combat aircraft can intercept cruise missiles and engage them. However, such missiles are quite difficult to detect: they are optimised for low level flying through the Terrain Following capability, have a low radar cross-section and heat signature and, they are small.

This means that an inteceptor using a long-range missile from the right position and altitude might be able to do the job. But it shouldn’t be something too easy.

Testing conducted by the U.S. Navy has shown that shooting down cruise missiles, flying at low-level and high-speed is actually a pretty difficult task: on Sept. 12, 2016, a live test fire demonstration involved the integration of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX 1), based in Edwards Air Force Base, with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture.

F-35 and Aegis Combat System Successfully Demonstrated Integration Potential in First Live Missile Test (Lockheed Martin)

The F-35B acted as an elevated sensor (to detect an over-the-horizon threat as envisaged for the F-22) that sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship (LLS-1), a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target: a test that proved how detecting, tracking and engaging cruise missiles requires cutting edge anti-surface and anti-air weapons.

On the other side it is somehow interesting to note that a rather old weapons system, the MiG-31, albeit operating a Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radar, can be able to intercept stealthy cruise missiles (like the Kh-101 reportedly used in some tests), with the support of an AWACS plane.

We don’t actually know the exact type of test the Russians conducted. For sure it wasn’t a low flying cruise missile like a Tomahawk, since this was reportedly flying in the “near space.”

The video below shows a past test when four MiG-31s, supported by an A-50 Mainstay, reportedly fired and hit a Kh-55 launched by a Tu-95 Bear.

“The cruise missile was destroyed at an altitude of 300 meters above the ground from a distance of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the target,” the Russian MoD said in a statement, quoted by Russian-owned outlet Sputnik News, back in 2015.

Anyway, Russia has other weapons systems nominally capable of repelling cruise missile attacks, as well as jets and drones: the S-400 anti-aircraft defense is able to engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft (someone says even VLO – Very Low Observable ones), drones and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 250 miles at an altitude of nearly 19 miles.

Let us know what you think and know about the MiG-31 ability to intercept waves of cruise missiles.

Top image: file artwork by Pravda.ru

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Marine Corps, Air Force F-35 Jets Take Part In Red Flag Exercise Together For The First Time

Red Flag 17-3 underway at Nellis Air Force Base features both U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force F-35s, for the first time together.

Red Flag is simply one of the largest and more realistic exercises in world, designed to simulate the first 10 days of a modern conflict.

Hundred of combat aircraft along with pilots, ground forces, intelligence analysts, cyber and space operators take regularly part in RF exercises at Nellis AFB, just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, to validate tactics and weapon systems employment within the context of the Nevada Test and Training Range.

As already explained the RF scenario continuously changes in order to adapt to the real world threats: the old “fixed” battlefields, where the location of the enemy was known and remained pretty much unchanged until the aircraft reached the target area, have evolved in a more dynamic and unknown battlespace that requires real-time data coordinators able to disseminate information on the threats and targets gathered from a variety of assets and sensors. In such new “networked” scenarios, stealth technology (capability to survive and operate effectively where others cannot) combined with 5th Generation features (sensor fusing), are extremely important to achieve the “Information Superiority” required to geo-locate the threats and target them effectively.

That’s why the presence of 5th Gen. aircraft teaming with and “orchestrating” 4th Gen. combat planes (lacking the Low Observability feature but able to carry more ordnance) will become the leit motiv of the future Red Flags.

For instance, Red Flag 17-3, underway at Nellis from Jul. 10 to 28, sees two F-35 Lightning II squadrons (and as many JSF variants) participating in the drills together for the very first time: the Marine Corps’ F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft from VMFA-211 based at MCAS Yuma and the Air Force’s F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) from 33rd Wing from Eglin AFB, Fla. Furthermore, during RF 17-3, the two different variants of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) operate alongside the F-22 Raptors from Tyndall AFB, also taking part in the exercise.

The cooperation of the three radar-evading aircraft, including the controversial F-35s, is going to be particularly interesting.

According to the USMC, VMFA-211 will conduct defensive counter air (DCA); offensive counter air (OCA); suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD); destruction of enemy air defense; dynamic taskings, which involve finding a time-sensitive target or series of targets and eliminating them; electronic warfare (EW); preplanned strikes; and combat search and rescue (CSAR).

Whereas U.S. Air Force F-35s (from a different unit) have already taken part in RF, the missions they flew during RF 17-1, at least based on reports and official statements, focused on OCA and air interdiction in a highly contested/denied aerial environment: Air Force F-35As penetrated denied airspace and directed standoff weapons from B-1B heavy bombers flying outside the denied airspace. During these missions, the F-35As with IOC (Initial Operational Capability – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) entered the denied airspace and engaged both aerial and ground targets, not only with weapons they carried but also with weapons launched from other platforms such as the B-1Bs as they loitered just outside the threat environment acting as “bomb trucks.” Moreover, during the RF 17-1 sorties, flying alongside the F-22 Raptors, the F-35s achieved the pretty famous kill ratio of “20-1.

Interestingly, even though it will probably not embed simulated shipborne or remote base operations (that are what the F-35Bs, in spite of the limited range and internal weapons capacity, was somehow designed to conduct) the Marine Corps will expand the role of the 5th Gen. aircraft in RF, covering also EW and CSAR support tasks.

“It’s … important to practice integrating assets from all across the [Armed Forces’] inventory because if we go to conflict, we don’t want that to be the first time we all integrate with each other,” said Maj. Paul Holst, VMFA-211’s executive officer, in a public release.

“This is the first time we [VMFA-211] have deployed on this scale … we brought 10 F-35s here with all of our maintenance equipment, all of our support equipment and personnel,” said Holst. “For the pilots, the opportunity to participate in these exercises prepares us for combat … and the opportunity to integrate and plan with the rest of the force is something you just don’t get anywhere else.”

“A lot of times at home station, we’re basically working just with each other or we’re doing things that are [smaller in] scale and only focusing on our specific mission sets that we do,” said Maj. Chris Brandt, a pilot and administration and logistics officer in charge with VMFA-211. “When we actually deploy, we’re most likely going to be part of a joint force so coming here you get that experience. It’s not until you come to exercises like these that you get to train across services and [train] with platforms that you typically would not work with at your home station.”

According to Holst, Red Flag allows each service and subordinate unit to understand the capabilities of other services, units and their equipment.

“For example, the E/A-18G exists in the Navy and the Air Force doesn’t really have a comparable asset to that. There may be situations where the only F-35s in theater are Marine Corps F-35s … and you have to integrate the F-35s into the entire package,” said Holst. “It’s always going to be necessary to bring everyone’s assets together and practicing that is really important.”

The F-35s of both variants should play 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 what done by the USMC F-35B in exercises against high-end threats carried out last year with some jets configured as “bomb trucks” and others carrying only internal weapons.

As a side note it’s worth mentioning that the integration of the F-35A and B variants is something another partner nation is going to explore in the future. In fact, Italy will have both A and B variants, with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) ones serving both the Air Force (that has already taken on charge its first 7 F-35As with the eight example that has recently performed its maiden flight at Cameri FACO) and the Italian Navy, that will use them on the Cavour aircraft carrier. One day we will analyse (again) whether the F-35B was really needed by the ItAF, but this is going to be another story.

 

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U.S. Marine Corps F-35B to take part in South Korean drills amid growing nuclear tension with North

The USMC Joint Strike Fighters based in Japan will take part in Foal Eagle joint exercise with South Korea. A rather symbolic move.

Some F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) are taking part in Exercise Foal Eagle in South Korea, according to U.S. military sources who talked to Yonhap News Agency.

The aircraft Lightning II will carry out “ground attack” tasks during the two-month drills.

“The addition of the F-35B is meant to deliver a strong message to the North that they could be used against the rogue state in case of a conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula,” an official said to the South Korean media outlets.

Earlier this week North Korea fired off four ballistic missiles into the seas near Japan in the latest of a long series of nuclear threats to the US, Japan and South Korea.

Although the attendance of the 5th generation stealth aircraft in the exercise can be seen as a message in response to Kim Jong Un’s growing missile threats it was first speculated as the first U.S. Marine Corps F-35B squadron was deployed to its new homebase in Japan.

Indeed, on Jan. 9, 2017, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, departed MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

Formerly a 3rd MAW F/A-18 Hornet squadron, the VMFA-121 “Green Knights” has achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the JSF on Jul. 31, 2015.

In October 2016, a contingent of 12 F-35Bs took part in Developmental Test III aboard USS America followed by the Lightning Carrier “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the carrier on Nov. 19, 2016.

During the POC, the aircraft proved it can operate at-sea, employing a wide array of weapons loadouts with the newest software variant and some of the most experienced F-35B pilots said that “the platform is performing exceptionally.

Although the F-35B is the most modern combat plane in the region and can theoretically be used as part of a larger package to hit very well defended North Korean targets in case of war, the presence of a handful stealth multirole aircraft (just 10 aircraft deployed to Japan, 6 more are reportedly joining the USMC squadron at Iwakuni by August this year), is mostly symbolic and must be considered as part of a wider military force, an armada that, if needed, would also include B-1B Lancers deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission, U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit stealth bombers (that have already conducted extended deterrence missions over the Korean Peninsula in the past years); along with other USAF from land bases and U.S. Navy aircraft from aircraft carriers, including the F-16 in Wild Weasel role and the EA-18G Growlers Electronic Attack assets, to name but few.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

 

 

U.S. F-35 Update: F-35A to Red Flag, Navy F-35Cs Experience Problems, Marine F-35B Leads

Large Number of Air Force F-35As to Red Flag 17-1, Navy Works Through F-35C Launch Problem, Marines Continue to Lead in F-35B Integration.

January of 2017 has been a busy month for the ongoing integration of new Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters into U.S. operational deployment with the U.S. Air Force and testing with the U.S. Navy.

Most recently the U.S. Air Force has deployed flight and maintenance crews of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings from Hill AFB to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on January 20, 2017 for Red Flag 17-1. The units are reportedly contributing an unprecedented total of thirteen F-35As to the exercise according to spotters on the ground outside Nellis.

The F-35As join twelve U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 149th Fighter Squadron of the Virginia Air National Guard 192nd Fighter Wing flying to Nevada from Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Virginia. This marks a significant exercise to utilize the interoperability of the F-35A with the F-22 as a unified force.

P-51, F-35 and F-22 Heritage Flight

Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander told official Air Force media, “Our Airmen are excited to bring the F-35 to a full-spectrum combat exercise. The Red Flag battle space is going to be a great place to leverage our stealth and interoperability. It’s a lethal platform and I’m confident we will prove to be an invaluable asset to the commander.”

The Red Flag deployment for Air Force F-35As is significant since it marks a major milestone in one of the aircraft’s primary roles, flying as an interoperable sensor and intelligence gathering platform in combination with other tactical aircraft. Maj. Jeffrey Falanga, director of operations for the 414th Combat Training Squadron that hosts Red Flag told media, “Red Flag is important because of what it provides,” Major Falanga went on to say, “(Red Flag) provides our training audience with a realistic environment enabling them to practice in all domains–air, ground, space, and cyber–and also to be able to practice interoperability with not only U.S., but joint and coalition forces. Which is important since we’ll operate with these forces in our next engagement.”

Last year the U.S. Marines deployed six F-35B Lightning II’s from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 to Red Flag 16-3 in July-August 2016. The Marine F-35Bs have since been deployed to the western Pacific. This suggests the Marines have had the highest degree of success in integrating F-35s into an operational setting even though they fly the most complex version of the F-35, the “B” version with the STOVL  (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) capability designed to operate from small assault carrier ships.

The year had a bumpy start, literally, for U.S. Navy F-35C tests and evaluation. In a Jan. 11, 2017 news story the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) for the U.S. Navy’s F-35C program was quoted as reporting that, “Excessive vertical oscillations during catapult launches make the F-35C operationally unsuitable for carrier operations, according to fleet pilots.”

The problem that prompted the report is predominantly the result of the nose landing gear suspension settings and/or design according to AviationWeek.com. The nose landing gear is not adequately damping the strong vertical movement that results when the nose gear is released from the catapult launch apparatus at the end of the flight deck. The vertical oscillations were severe enough that pilots could not read flight-critical data on their instrument displays according the report. The oscillations caused most pilots to lock their seat harness during launch, which made emergency controls difficult for some pilots to reach. The test pilots deemed this situation “unacceptable and unsafe,” according the report portions published by AviationWeek.com.

During carrier launches the nosewheel suspension is compressed both by the tension of the catapult towbar and to a smaller degree by thrust applied when the pilot advances the throttle to take-off power settings. The front of the aircraft “squats” or assumes a slightly nose-downward angle of attack compared to when it is not attached to the catapult towbar for launch.

Once the catapult is fired and the hold-back behind the nose landing gear is released the aircraft begins its trip down the flight deck propelled by jet thrust from the engines and either by hydraulic, or on newer aircraft carriers, electromagnetic force through the catapult. At the end of the flight deck on the bow of the ship where the flight deck ends the towbar releases the nose landing gear and the nose of the aircraft rapidly rises, increasing angle of attack to facilitate optimal lift at the speed the aircraft is traveling when it reaches the edge of the deck. The amount of launch force used by the catapult is different for each launch depending on the gross take-off weight of the aircraft being launched. It varies with type, fuel load and payload.

The problems were reported during the latest round of sea trials on board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). These latest reports conflict with earlier reports from sea trials onboard USS George Washington in August of 2015 when Cmdr. Ted “Dutch” Dyckman, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 101, the “Grim Reapers”, told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, “It’s just easy, It’s really easy to fly.”

Twelve U.S. Navy pilots operated the F-35C during earlier aircraft trials in 2016 aboard the George Washington from Strike Fighter Squadron 101, the “Grim Reapers”. The pilots were completing carrier qualifications as a continuing phase of the F-35C’s testing prior to operational deployment.

The Navy’s Patuxent River-based Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 is the unit that reported the take-off anomalies. Flight operations for the later phase of tests by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23), included taking off and landing with externally mounted simulated weapons and asymmetrical loading. These additional loads may be a factor in the outcome of the testing and the subsequent report.

While this is a negative report about U.S. Navy F-35C operations, the final version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to enter U.S. service (The U.S. Marine F-35B and Air Force F-35A are already operational), it is a relatively minor potential defect in the program that will likely be corrected as a result of this finding.

Finally, in F-35 airshow news we learned in a phone conversation with Mark Thibeault, civilian contractor speaking about the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Team, that the team’s schedule will include “fourteen dates” in 2017. The final scheduling for the F-35 Heritage Flight Team will be completed within 2-3 weeks according the Thibeault.

Author with Major Will Andreotta

Major Will Andreotta returns as the F-35A Heritage Flight pilot for 2017.

Image credit: Tom Demerly

 

 

As U.S. F-35s deploy to Japan, China Increases Naval Pressure Near Taiwan provoking a reaction.

Chinese Carrier Liaoning Crosses Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone: Provokes Taiwanese Response.

Media and intelligence sources report the Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning has crossed the politically sensitive Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) along with several escort ships. The Liaoning sailed up the west side of the median line of the strait separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan.

The Chinese government issued a release stating the Liaoning and her support vessels were conducting drills to test weapons and equipment in the disputed South China Sea and that these operations are in compliance with international law.

In response, Taiwan dispatched patrol and fighter aircraft to monitor the passage of the Liaoning group. The Taipei Times reported a similar incident on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, 2016. During that incident people in the city of Hualien photographed Taiwanese F-16 and RF-16 aircraft taking off in response to the sighting of the Liaoning in monitored waters. Reports also indicate that Taiwan’s E-2K Hawkeye and P-3 Orion aircraft were dispatched to the area to maintain patrol and surveillance. These same aircraft likely responded to this passage of the Liaoning.

In unrelated activity in the western Pacific region, on Jan. 9, 2017 the U.S. Marines deployed ten F-35B Lightening II STOVL aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), the “Green Knights” to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Honshu Island in Japan. The squadron is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma.

Although the deployment to Iwakuni is not a direct U.S. response to escalating tensions in the region as it represents a planned phase of the normal operational integration of the F-35B force for the U.S. Marine, the deployment of the most advanced American aircraft to the region has also a symbolic value.

MCAS Iwakuni is approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,079 nautical miles) northeast of central Taiwan. Range of the F-35 is generically reported as 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 kilometers) with a stated combat radius of 625 nautical miles (1,158 km) unrefueled.

The F-35B STOVL variant is intended for shipboard operations however, and was recently tested on board the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) that is currently operating from the west coast of the United States for deployment in the Pacific theatre. USS America is one of three amphibious assault ships in this class that also includes the USS Tripoli (LHA 7) and USS Bougainville (LHA 6).

The Liaoning (Chinese CV-16) has a complex history.

It started life as a Russian (then Soviet) Navy Kuznetsov class carrier christened the Riga and launched in late 1988. It was the largest Russian naval ship ever built. The ship was re-named the Varyag in 1990 after nearly being commandeered by Ukraine. The Chinese initially had a plan to repurpose the ship as a floating casino, but China eventually elected to use the vessel as a training aircraft carrier and presumably a full-scale feasibility study for the operation and development of new Chinese aircraft carriers.

China is well underway in construction of their second aircraft carrier, the Type 001A now designated the Chinese CV-17. The new carrier is an indigenous Chinese design that does still use the ski-jump style aircraft launch technique as opposed to a steam or magnetic driven catapult as with U.S. carriers. That only one of these new Chinese-engineered carrier class vessels is under construction suggests that China may be developing another, more advanced carrier class. Additionally, intelligence indicates the Chinese are developing an indigenous magnetic catapult launch system.

Reports in Chinese media indicate that the Liaoning has an onboard compliment of 36 aircraft total. They include up to 24 Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark fighters that are reported to be restricted from carrying heavy strike weapons by take-off performance on board the ship according to Russian media. If accurate, this limits these aircraft to the air superiority role while flying from Liaoning. The J-15 Flying Shark is analogous to the Russian Su-33, sharing a plan form similar to the entire Su-27 series of Sukhoi aircraft.

The remainder of the ship’s compliment is limited to rotary wing aircraft including the Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine patrol helicopter and the “J” variant of the Z-18 helicopter configured for airborne early warning. The ship also reportedly carries two smaller Harbin Z-9C helicopters for rescue operations, an important role given the experience of the Russian carrier in anti-ISIL operations off Syria.

Given the aircraft onboard Liaoning currently the ship’s role is limited, in an operational sense, to air security patrol. The ship’s aircraft have no strike or even heavy anti-ship capability beyond its ASW helicopters.