Tag Archives: General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon

Hijacked Helicopter Launches Bizarre Attack on Venezuelan Government Installations In Alleged Coup Attempt

Helicopter Attack in Venezuela Mimics Failed 2016 Turkish Coup.

In a bizarre incident a man described as “rogue policeman Oscar Perez” allegedly led the commandeering of a Bolkow BO-105 police helicopter on Wednesday, June 28. The party used the aircraft to attack the Interior Ministry firing small arms at the building and then dropped grenades on the Supreme Court building in downtown Caracas, Venezuela.

The incident is reminiscent of the July 15, 2016 coup d’état attempt in Turkey when Turkish gunship helicopters attacked the police Special Forces headquarters and police air force headquarters in Golbasi, Turkey outside the city of Ankara. The Turkish attacks were more significant than the Venezuelan incident, at least so far. The Turkish incident escalated to an unsuccessful coup that accounted for many fatalities before it was stopped.

Rogue policeman Oscar Perez commandeered a Bolkow BO-105 police helicopter used to attack the Interior Ministry building and Supreme Court building in downtown Caracas, Venezuela (Photo: RT News)

The incident in Venezuela continues questions about the stability of the government and the security it exerts over its armed forces, particularly its air force.

Venezuela operates a small but modern air force consisting of a mix of light, counterinsurgency aircraft such as the Cessna 208 Caravan single-engine transport aircraft, Fairchild Metroliner twin-engine turboprops, Dornier DO-228 and Short 360 twin-engine box turboprops, both of which can be used for special operations and even gunship applications. They also operate the Russian built Mi-17 helicopter and French Eurocopter AS532. Both helicopters have gunship capability.

At the more regional level Venezuela has a potentially capable inventory of tactical jet combat aircraft that include twenty-three Sukhoi SU-30MK2 multi-role aircraft of unknown serviceability and sixteen U.S. manufactured F-16As. There have been persistent reports since 2004 of ongoing negotiations to purchase up to fifty MiG-29s from Russia, including two-seat trainer versions. In a report from intelligence think tank GlobalSecurity.org, Venezuela’s F-16A fleet was characterized as having “Only six of the 21 remaining F-16s in the Venezuelan fleet being fully mission capable, while a proposed US overhaul of the F-16 squadron remained on hold.”

One of Venezuela’s new Sukhoi SU-30MK2 aircraft. A coup attempt could leave these aircraft vulnerable to exploitation by revolutionaries.
(Photo: Venezuelan Air Force)

In the event of elevated instability in the region these aircraft could play a significant tactical role, in a similar way that commandeered aircraft influenced the failed Turkish revolt of 2016.

In any event this escalation of insurgent activity that includes highjacked aircraft will warrant increased monitoring of the military situation in Venezuela, especially its remaining air assets.

This undated file photo likely shows rogue Venezuelan policeman Oscar Perez in the pilot’s seat of a Bolkow BO-105 police helicopter painted differently than the one used in today’s attack on downtown Caracas, Venezuela (Photo: Harold Castro)

36 Years Ago today, “Operation Opera”: The Israeli Air Strike on an Iraqi Nuclear Reactor.

Israelis Shock The World With Audacious First Ever F-16 Strike.

1735 HRs Local, Sunday, June 7, 1981. Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Facility, outside Baghdad, Iraq.

Iraqi Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is in shock. His jaw drops, mouth gaping open as a strained moan leaves his throat. Despite the hot desert temperature his limbs feel cold. He cannot believe what he is seeing.

Eight F-16s painted sand-colored desert camouflage flying in a single-file attack formation at rooftop level hurtles over the outskirts of Baghdad from the southwest. They bank hard left, slicing white tendrils of vapor from their missile-clad wingtips in the evening air. One at a time they light their afterburners over the southern edge of the city. The crack of jet thunder makes people all over Baghdad glance upward to the sky. As the attacking pilots pull their side-sticks back the jets instantly vault upward into the clear evening blue on tails of orange fire.

Their wings wear the white roundel and blue Star of David. The Israelis are here.

The single file procession of ear-splitting jets reaches 5,000 feet, their tails to the sun and invisible from the ground in the blinding light for the moment. They roll heavily onto their backs, wings bloated with huge one-ton bombs. They pitch downward into a shallow dive and lazily tumble back to wings level. Then they each drop two Mark-84 delayed fuse 2,000-pound general purpose bombs on Iraq’s new industrial pride, the French-designed nuclear reactor at Osirak. The large round reactor dome is completely destroyed in only two minutes. Nothing else is touched.

And then they are gone.

Iraq’s own air defense gunners do the only collateral damage. They accidentally shoot one of their own anti-aircraft gun positions on the ground when they try to hit the last Israeli jet fleeing at low level as erupting explosions from the delayed fuses on the bombs shatter the nuclear dome. One French contractor from Air Liquide dies tragically in the air raid. Ten Iraqi soldiers are killed as well, although it is not known if their death was a result of the Israeli bombs.

This Google Earth image shows the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center with the arrow indicating the former location of the reactor destroyed during Operation Opera (Google Earth via Rick Herter)

Having recovered from his shocked surprise and weighed down by dread, the next day Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is hanged in a public execution along with his fellow officers. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has them executed for incompetence while failing to defend the most important strategic target in the country. It was the big Iraqi hope for building a nuclear weapons program.

In a script that has played out before, and would repeat itself again and again, a foreign nation has attacked Iraq to destroy its Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. This time it is Israel, and this is Operation Opera, one of the most audacious airstrikes in the history of airpower on June 7, 1981. It compares in significance to the air attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the RAF’s dam buster attack and in an unusual way the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

It is not the first time an audacious airstrike has been launched to destroy Iraq’s nuclear development program. The Iranians launched a similar strike only a few months earlier in September of 1980 but failed to achieve a tangible result, using two older McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms. The Iranian Phantoms missed the reactor dome with their bombs. Work on the Iraqi reactor supported by the French continued, this time with enhanced air defenses ringing the facility. It would not stop Israel from trying.

Operation Opera, sometimes also called Operation Babylon, holds a significant place in aerial combat history for many reasons. A few regard it as perhaps the most daring and significant air attack in history.

The aircrews who flew Operation Opera (Ze’ev Raz)

This was a spectacular combat debut for one of the most successful tactical aircraft ever built and still serving in front line service with many nations today. The early General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons used in the raid were called the “F-16A Netz” or “Hawk” in Israeli service. These very same F-16As went on to build an illustrious legacy for Israel, downing an amazing 40 enemy aircraft in the first war with Lebanon the year after Operation Opera in 1982. The original F-16A Netz aircraft were only recently retired from Israeli service on Dec. 26, 2016. They are being sold to a private contract “red air” company to provide simulation of enemy forces for training of new combat aircrews, probably over the U.S. southwest. During the following decades U.S. Air Force F-16s would go on to drop thousands of tons of munitions in the region.

In the latest chapter the free Iraqi Air Force acquired the first of thirty-six F-16s in June of 2014. That same year a U.S. F-16 instructor pilot told us on condition of anonymity that the program to train Iraqi pilots to fly the F-16 at Tucson International Airport in Arizona was, “Going dismally, most of them [the Iraqi F-16 students] can barely fly.” But the free Iraqis went on to develop enough proficiency to use their F-16’s successfully in combat over Iraq beginning in September of 2015. Just recently the Iraqi Air Force received its fifth batch of four F-16IQ’s on March 24th of 2017 completing the full Iraqi 9th Fighter Squadron with all of its F-16s.

Operation Opera has its roots in traditional aerial bombing before the introduction of stealth and precision guided weapons. It also reached into the future because of its mission of ending the proliferation of WMDs in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. That same agenda would haunt every U.S. President since then and eventually compel George W. Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003. Operation Opera foreshadows U.S. doctrine with North Korea today, supporting a rising argument that the U.S. should follow Israel’s example with Iraq and destroy North Korea’s looming nuclear threat before it becomes too dangerous to challenge.

While Operation Opera earns its place in the lore of combat aviation it was, for the most part, a relatively conventional low-level interdiction air strike. One of several things that made Opera sensational was the audacity of Israel for launching the strike, an aggressive act that Israel would defend with vigor, the United Nations would condemn and then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan would shrug off in surprised but quiet admiration of Israel’s aggressiveness, daring and initiative.

Another thing that surprised observers including U.S. intelligence analysts was how the Israelis managed to complete the raid without aerial refueling and how they were able to infiltrate one of Iraq’s most heavily defended airspaces completely undetected in broad daylight. The answers to these questions are exceptional planning, vigorous espionage, incredible work on the part of the maintenance crews, support personnel and incredible airmanship for the strike pilots along with no small measure of good fortune for the Israelis.

The Israeli F-16A’s take on fuel up to the last moment before take-off (Ze’ev Raz via Rick Herter)

It is interesting that the Israelis chose to use eight lightweight, single-engine F-16As as the bomb-carrying strike aircraft and assigned six of the heavier, twin engine F-15 “Baz” aircraft to fly combat air patrol over the mission. The F-15 would later be adapted into a dedicated strike fighter configuration that would have been better suited to a raid like Operation Opera.

Remarkably, 26 years later Israel would use this mission template again.

On Sept. 6, 2007 Israel would reverse the role of the same aircraft during Operation Orchard, an airstrike on a secret Syrian nuclear installation in the Deir ez-Zor area. In this later strike on a similar target, Israel would employ new F-15I Ra’am strike aircraft as bombers and use the latest precision guided air-to-ground weapons including Maverick missiles and laser-guided bombs. An Israeli special operations team infiltrated the area to provide initial reconnaissance, including radiological survey, and later provide target designation for the precision-guided weapons during the strike. The Syrian nuclear site was built with significant support and cooperation from the North Koreans, and ten North Korean workers were killed at Deir ez-Zor, Syria during the 2007 strike.

Aviation artist and historian Rick Herter of the U.S. traveled to Israel some time ago with a U.S. Air Force Major General. Herter was given unique access to the secretive Israeli Air Force, interfacing with the Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff to gain a detailed historical understanding of Israeli operations including Operation Opera. Following Herter’s trip to Israel he began to work closely with retired Israeli Air Force Colonel Ze’ev Raz who planned and commanded Operation Opera himself, flying one of the strike aircraft. Herter’s unique relationship with the man who planned and flew the mission gave him insights that lead to his painting of the mission, the only in flight image with historical and technical accuracy. Rick Herter’s painting, “Dropping The Hammer, Operation Opera” is used at the top of this article.

Retired Israeli Air Force Colonel and pilot Ze’ev Raz collaborates with aviation historian and artist Rick Herter. (Rick Herter)

The Hellenic Air Force Has Retired Its Last RF-4E Phantom Jets

The HAF has bid farewell to its last “recce” Phantoms.

On May 4, Larissa airbase, Greece, hosted the spotter day for the final flight of the Hellenic Air Force RF-4E, the last “recce” Phantoms in Europe. With the phase out of the last Greek RF-4E, Iran and Japan remain the last operators of the reconnaissance variant of the “Rhino” (how the Phantom is dubbed in the aviation community).

Indeed, the 348 MTA (Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron), one of the oldest and most historic Hellenic Air Force squadrons, was disbanded on May 5, after 64 years of operations, with its last three RF-4s finally retired from active service: the example serialled 7499, that sported a brand new special livery; the old special colored 7450, and the 71765, an RF-4E still wearing the Southeast Asia camouflage color scheme.

A static and flying display were arranged to celebrate the event.

The photographs in this article were taken at Larissa by The Aviationist’s contributors Alessandro Fucito and Tony Lovelock on May 4 and 5, 2017.

The last RF-4E in Greek service still sporting the Vietnam-era color scheme.

The old special color of the 348 Mira: the 7450

The 7450 was prepared in 2013 to celebrate the 60 years of 348 TRS and 40 years of Phantom operations.

The new “End of the Film” special color lands during the Spotter Day on May 4, 2017.

The RF-4E 7450 takes off in front of the photographers to take part in the Spotters Day’s flying display.

The last three Recce Rhinos perform a flypast in formation with HAF Mirage 2000 and F-16C.

The final trio overflying Larissa in formation.

The Mirage 2000EG 239 of the 332 Mira that took part in the flypast along the RF-4Es.

F-16C “508” departs to rejoin with the RF-4Es and Mirage 2000.

The accompanying Mirage 2000 and F-16C break the formation.

The last Greek RF-4E special color taxing after landing.

M2000-5BG Mark II “505” performing a low passage. Several HAF aircraft flew their training sorties during the retirement celebrations.

F-16D “600” of the 337 Mira.

Among the aircraft in static display there was also this preserved RF-84F Thunderflash in silver color scheme “37683” formerly belonging to 337 Mira.

 

Ramstein Alloy 4 Served To Exercise Baltic Air Policing Alert Aircraft Procedures

Check Out These Awesome Air-to-Air Shots Taken During Ramstein Alloy 4 Exercise.

The fourth edition of the NATO air drills series Ramstein Alloy took place in Baltic airspace, mainly over Lithuania, on Apr. 25 and 26.

Combat planes supporting the Baltic Air Policing mission and belonging to the Royal Netherlands Air Force, German Air Force, Polish Air Force and Royal Norwegian Air Force took part in the exercise alongside transport aircraft from Lithuania, a U.S. tanker and NATO AWACS aircraft undertaking several different missions to exercise BAP alert procedures as well as to enhance relations and interoperability amongst allied Air Forces.

The BAP mission serves to protect the Baltic states airspace. The activity of the Russian Air Force in the area remains one of the main reasons for which the mission has been established, however the NATO assets in the region are also scrambled to intercept civilian aircraft that do not use proper flight plans, transponder codes or which have lost communication with the ATC. And most of the aforesaid procedures were trained during the Ramstein Alloy 4 training event.

A Dutch F-16 escorts the C-27J Spartan.

According to NATO, “participants practiced air intercepts, air to air refueling, search and rescue operations as well as practice diversions, the approaches to different Baltic airfields. Furthermore, involved aircraft also trained intercept procedures for COMLOSS situations, a scenario in which a civilian aircraft loses contact with ground controls and requires midair identification by Air Policing alert jets.”

The RNlAF F-16s involved in the Ramstein Alloy 4 mission that included the escort to the C-27J

Foto Poork’s Filip Modrzejewski took part in the exercise and provided us some stunning air-to-air images taken during Ramstein Alloy.

The photo-shoot took place at the altitudes between 22 and 24,000 feet, with the C-27 Spartan playing the role of a photoship. Due to the scarcity of oxygen available in the air, all of the photos were taken through the Spartan’s windows which, nonetheless remain photographer-friendly, as the images prove.

Dutch F-16s and one of two Typhoons closing on the camera ship’s left wing.

Moreover, taking photos as high also has its advantages, being less dependent on the weather. The shoot involved three formations: 2x F-16s, 2x F-16s + 2x Eurofighters, and, finally, a pair of Eurofighters. The aircraft also performed some breaks, to make the photos even more interesting.

The operation is a sequel to the Baltic Region Training Event (BRTE) series, 20 editions of which preceded the Ramstein Alloy exercise.

The two armed Typhoons break the formation.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski

 

Red Flag’s air combat maneuvering as seen from the Nevada Desert

Climb with us to the top of Coyote Summit to see some real Red Flag 17-2 action!

Red Flag is a major event in the military aviation community, known by both pilots, spotters and other fans. In a nutshell, it is the most important exercise in the world, both in terms of realistic training and participating units, and it’s held 4 times a year. It is staged from one of the world’s biggest and most famous airbases: Nellis Air Force Base, north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Much has already been written about Red Flag so I won’t come back to the origins, dating back to the Vietnam War; nor will I describe the Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR), where the wargame takes place, nor the 64th Aggressor Squadron whose involvement as a realistic opposition makes Red Flag what it is.

Aircraft parked on the apron at Nellis AFB during RF 17-2

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Nevada, during Red Flag 17-2, and watch these machines around the base. The unit panel consisted mainly of F-16C squadrons :

  • the 55th FS from Shaw AFB with few jets from 77th and 79th FS;
  • the Alabama ANG 100th FS with two jets decorated with beautiful red Tuskegee tails;
  • the Colorado ANG 120th FS;
  • RNLAF 322nd sqn F-16s based in Leeuwarden, with some jets from Tucson (with mixed Arizona ANG and dutch markings).

The only other jet players were Spanish Ala 111 with their Eurofighters, supported by KC-130H from Ala 312, and 493rd FS Eagles from Lakenheath.

An Aggressor F-16 about to start “flexing” after take off

After two days of shooting tons of pictures (you can have a glimpse here), and wanting more than take-offs and landings at the base, I was looking for some more action. My plan was to go and see and hear the aerial war in the high desert of Nevada, the natural habitat of these metal birds.

The place is known as Coyote Summit and is a two hours drive from Sin City, heading north. Passing Hancok Summit on the E.T. Highway (also known as US 375), one can see the vastness of the USAF playground. On the left, there’s a trail leading to Area 51, invisible behind a small ridge. Thirty miles ahead is Rachel, and my plan is to stop at a small gap, up the road where most of the Blue players (Blue air are the participant units of Red Flag, while Red air with their Aggressor F-16s simulate the enemy) should fly by, low or high.

Around Coyote Summit

So here I am, on this clear Nevada weather morning, sitting on top of Coyote Summit, a 200 ft hill at the “gate” of the Range (aka the NTTR), and waiting.

This particular place is very well-known among spotters and by noon, we’re 5 people there, chatting about aviation, and catching in a hurry our cameras at every engine sound we hear above the wind.

At around 1PM, things start moving with 2 white pickups driving fast accross the desert south of our vantage point. They’re not going to set up a simulated Roland SAM as we initially believe. They just drop a guy alone in the bushes and carry on their drive and stay in a deep creek 2 miles away. Radio chatter begins, after a long silent morning, between the pickups and some range controller. We understand that they should have gone to “Red gate”, instead of “Blue gate”, but it seems to be a bit late to fix so the guy on the ground will stay there.

At 2:20PM, we hear some tactical comms on the radio: U.S. F-15Cs and Spanish Typhoons are setting up their Combat Air Patrol (CAP), well east of our position. Cylon flight will take New York CAP (should be above Hiko as we see the contrails) and Pulsar flight will go to Alaska CAP, above Worthington Peak.

F-15s contrailing above Coyote Summit

“Vul time” has been delayed because some players are still on the tarmac at Nellis, and now, according to “Words Bravo,” this Vul time is 2245Z (or 2:45PM). And that’s precisely then that we see “the Wall”, formed by 4 F-15Cs and their contrails, pushing west towards the Red players. The opposition is now just a pair of F-16Cs Aggressors. But soon, as the fight develops, more aircrafts from both sides will converge above Rachel and fight at high altitude.

To the merge!

An F-15 during the engagement

Shots are called on the radio, e.g. “Pulsar 1, Fox 3, bullseye 080 10 23 thousand!”
“Copy shot” says a controller, and a few seconds later some voice confirms the shots as kills (“Mig 3 dead”), or misses (“Pulsar 1, shot trashed).

A Spanish Typhoon contrailing at high altitude

The action never stops, some Aggressors come back (“Cylon 3, pop-up single, BRA 250, 15 miles, 26 thousand, regen”), some Blue players get shot, but mostly Red Air gets hurt and regens regularly. Spanish Typhoons and Dutch Vipers drop flares every now and then, calling out “Spike” or “SAM” based on what their RWR gear tells them.

Spanish Typhoons flaring

Plenty of flares were used during the mock air combat training we observed from Coyote Summit.

While these jets fight overhead, sometimes with an impressive double sonic boom, we can hear some choppers approaching low from the southeast.

MH-60 approaching

Two Navy MH-60S from HSC-21 turn for a few minutes before converging toward our lonely guy, not far from us.

I’m as close to the action as I’ll ever be and soon, we hear jets coming for help as the Sandy fighters used to fly in Vietnam. These are 2 F-16Cs from the 120th FS, with their Colorado ANG tails, circling about 1,000 feet above us and protecting what is now clearly a “downed pilot extraction.”

One of the choppers involved in the CSAR mission

Two F-16s circling above provided cover to the downed personnel extraction operation.

F-16 “Sandy”

This lasts for 10 minutes and the Vipers even simulate an attack on the hidden white pickups. The choppers take off with their precious cargo in and head to the southeast.

MH-60s egressing

The fighter jets activity now seems to subside a bit.

Some are already calling “RTB” (meaning Return to Base) and some sanitize the area while the strikers egress. I haven’t seen any striker as they must have flown through a route north of Rachel. It is also interesting to add that all the air combat seen today, at least the kills, were BVR (Beyond Visual Range) or nearly – no WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfights were spotted.

At about 4:15, two hours after the first thunderous noises, we hear on the frequency “All players, all players, knock it off, knock it off”: this is the end sign and everybody now RTB.

This was a long day and pretty intense afternoon which I’ll never forget. Hundreds of photos were taken. But what’s most important when coming here, is the possibility to listen to the air-to-air communications with a UHF scanner: the best way to be immersed into the action.

Thanks to Aviationist Todd Miller for all the precious info about aviation photography and Coyote Summit area.

Salva