Tag Archives: General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon

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

Polish Parliamentary National Defense Committee Discusses the Future of the F-16s and Prospects of Acquiring 5th Gen. Jets

Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense analyzed the current state of the Polish Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet, its future, as well as plans related to the M-346 AJTs and JASSM / JASSM-ER missiles.

According to the report issued by Tomasz Dmitruk of the Polish “Dziennik Zbrojny” outlet, on Mar. 22, during the meeting of the Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense, Division General Pilot Jan Śliwka, who is also acting as the Deputy Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, presented the Polish Parliament the history and capabilities possessed by the F-16 multi-role jet aircraft, along with an overview of their technical status, maintenance requirements, armament and pilot’s training program. The General has also talked about the missions assigned to the backbone of the Polish Air Force.

The information presented during the event also provided a unique insight into the operations of the aircraft.

7-8 out of 48 jets are currently undergoing maintenance or overhauls – this constitutes 14-17% of the fleet, still leaving around 85% of the aircraft combat-ready. A single F-16 jet can spend 8,000 hours in the air, which means that total lifetime is equal to 384,000 hours (48 aircraft, 8000 hours each).  Based on the report issued by Dmitruk, all of the Jastrząb (Polish Air Force’s name ascribed to the F-16) jets have spent 53,000 hours in the air so far, which amounts up to 14% of the total lifetime.

This means that, should the operational activity of the jets be maintained at the current level, there is still an option to operate the aircraft for the next 30 years.

Last year we have seen the initial steps related to MLU (Mid-Life Update) of the Polish F-16 fighter fleet, as the Tape M6.5 upgrade has been implemented, following the decision to acquire the new AGM-158A JASSM and AGM-158B JASSM-ER cruise missiles, along with new variants of the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles).

The Polish Air Force is also looking forward to the acquisition of more Mk 82 bombs and JDAM and Paveway conversion kits.

Nonetheless, during the Committee Meeting, Śliwka informed that the Ministry is also analyzing the potential prospects of acquisition of more armament for the fighter jets which could expand their capabilities in specific domains. Notably, throughout the last two years we have witnessed an intensification of operations undertaken by the Polish F-16s with Warsaw’s Vipers deploying to Kuwait to join the air war against ISIS and plans to take part in the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

One of the priorities for the Polish Air Force is to acquire anti-radiation missiles. Orbital ATK’s AARGM missile has been quite intensively marketed in Poland throughout the past two years, so it may be safely stated that this weapon is a serious contender to becoming the primary SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) armament for the Polish jets. Furthermore, the MoD is also scrutinizing the prospects of acquiring new PGM (Precision Guided Munition) ordnance (including submunition pods to act against tanks and armored assets, as well as penetrating bombs which could be used to neutralize fortifications underground); lastly, the Air Force would also like to integrate the jet with an anti-ship missile.

Prospective procurement of new multi-role jets for the Polish Air Force was the second issue covered during the meeting.

This matter is somewhat urgent, since the Su-22 and MiG-29 aircraft are gradually becoming obsolete, with a prospect of being withdrawn starting from 2024-2025.

Their successor, as Dmitruk reports, shall be selected well ahead of the retirement of the two post-Soviet era jets.

According to General Śliwka, quoted by Dziennik Zbrojny, the requirements for the new multi-role combat aircraft have already been defined by the command, while the Armament Inspectorate (Polish MoD’s procurement body) is dealing with an analysis that is going to be included in a Strategic Defense Review, similar to its recent British counterpart.

The options currently weighted and considered, span from the acquisition of second-hand F-16A/B or C/D aircraft with subsequent upgrade, through procurement of brand new F-16s, to the eventual purchase of 5th Gen. F-35 aircraft.

The early conclusions indicate that procurement and upgrade of the Alpha/Bravo Falcons would lack a proper degree of cost-effectiveness.

After further analysis, and with the context taken into account at the MoD, General Staff and the Armament Inspectorate, Bartosz Kownacki, Polish Deputy Minister of Defence stated that the workload and expenditure entailed would be too high, in relation to potential benefits.

Kownacki noted that even though the price of second-hand aircraft would be at the level of 50% of the price of a new aircraft, the operational lifetime would also be 50% shorter. General Śliwka also mentioned the fact that the case of Romanian F-16 procurement was also looked at, and it turned out that the cost was higher, in comparison with potential acquisition of new aircraft. Hence the MoD might be inclined to go on, and join the F-35 users club, even though this is a longterm prospect plan

Meanwhile, the rumors (which circulated last year) that Poland would be considering selling its jets to Romania, have been once again denied.

During the meeting, the opposition also had a chance to ask questions to the Ministry.

First of the covered issues, raised by the former Deputy Minister of Defence Czesław Mroczek, dealt with the procurement of the M-346 jet-trainers and their compliance with the Polish specifications. Col. Waldemar Bogusławski, Deputy Head at the Armament Inspectorate, answered that the manufacturer confirmed its readiness to deliver the AJT [Advanced Jet Trainer] in a configuration compliant with the Polish expectations as late as in July this year.

Second question referred to the JASSM missiles.

General Jan Śliwka announced that one of the Polish Vipers is currently staying in the United States, and the tape M6.5 upgrade has been already introduced in its case. Following a test firing of the missile, the jet is to return back to Poland in April. The remaining aircraft are going to receive the software upgrades domestically, in Poland. Delivery of the first four JASSM missiles is to be finalized by the end of April (the photos published in the social media by the press officer of the Krzesiny 31st Airbase suggest that two missiles have already been delivered).

The 2014 procurement contract assumes that the missiles would be delivered in full between 2018 and 2019, with the AGM-158B JASSM-ER ordnance to follow, and subsequent deliveries scheduled in this case before 2020. The -ER missiles were contracted in December, last year.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork, W. Mazurkiewicz

Polish Air Force Further Postpones Procurement of 5th Generation Fighters to replace MiG-29 and Su-22 jets

Polish Air Force Modernization Initiatives do not foresee 5th Generation Fighters until at least 2022.

The plan to acquire the 5th-generation jets that would prospectively replace the Su-22 Fitter and MiG-29 Fulcrum airframes, currently operated by the Polish Air Force alongside the F-16s, has been postponed by the leadership of the Polish Ministry of Defense.

Lacking the net-centric capabilities, data-links and modern precision guided weaponry Fulcrums and Fitters are becoming more and more unsuited to the conditions of the contemporary battlefield environment.

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As Tomasz Dmitruk of the Dziennik Zbrojny outlet speculates, the program in question could become a part of the subsequent planning period, between the years 2017-2026. The said modernization plan is expected to be developed next year.

In one of his interviews given to Dziennik Zbrojny, General Adam Duda, head of the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish MoD, claimed that “Harpia” program, which is to cover the acquisition of new fighters, would be scheduled to begin from 2023.

su-22-close-up-turn

According to the statement issued by the Polish MoD, responding to a parliamentary question issued by MP Paweł Olszewski, the operational requirements review carried out by the Polish Armed Forces resulted in an assumption that the Su-22’s operations are expected to be maintained, thus, acquisition of the new jets is going to probably begin next year – here we mean the sole initiation of the procurement program as the acquisition itself would be far down the road.

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The adopted modernization assumptions, when it comes to the military aircraft, are focused on several priorities, including combat and support helicopters. We do know though, that this tender faces a significant delay, for the reasons related to offset agreement negotiations and, reportedly, difficulties occurring within that process, as the current government reports.

The tender has been canceled and restarted. Polish MoD is also willing to acquire 32 attack helicopters, with logistics and training package.

Second of the priority tasks that is to be implemented by the Ministry is focused on UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and reconnaissance.

Operational MALE UAV systems, mini- and micro-class systems and satellite platforms are going to be acquired.

The Ministry is to procure four operational-level ZEFIR systems, 12 tactical medium range GRYF UAVs (in this case, the systems are to be manufactured by the domestic entities), 12 tactical short range Orlik systems, and 15 mini-class WIZJER aircraft.

However, all of the programs listed above were canceled on Jul. 15, 2016 and they are expected to be restarted with the new government urging the UAV systems in question to be manufactured solely by the companies controlled by the treasury and based domestically.

UAVs are also a subject to financial limitations and Polish Deputy Minister of Defence, Bartosz Kownacki, noted that extra funds would be required to finalize the procurement process.

Same conditions apply to the micro UAVs. One of the significant developments, when it comes to the UAV systems and considering the “treasury” condition mentioned above, may be seen in the fact that one of the major Polish manufacturers of such aircraft, the WB Group, has been excluded from the tendering procedures listed here, due to the fact that it remains a private entity, even though the said company offers systems that have a track-proven record and are highly advanced.

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Thirdly, the Air Force is in the process of acquiring a new training platform for the pilots, in order to replace the aging TS-11 Iskra trainers. This is being done through acquisition of an integrated training package founded around the M-346 Master AJT aircraft.

The Ministry of Defense acquired 8 such airframes already, with optional procurement of another 4 examples possible, within the framework of the very same contract. Two jets have been received this year, with the remaining ones expected to be delivered in 2017.

Furthermore, the Ministry also took a course to acquire VIP aircraft for the government officials, with two types of platforms to be procured. Small VIP jets will be delivered next year, while medium aircraft are expected to be supplied throughout the years 2017, 2020 and 2021, one jet each year.

Exact deadlines will be known after the negotiation is finalized with the potential contractors.

Moreover, the MoD is also focused on securing the Armed Forces transport capabilities, especially within the tactical dimension, as well as within the scope of the NATO, EU and UN commitments (humanitarian aid operations, evacuations and deployment of special forces).

However, this has been done already, as 5 CASA C-295M airlifters have been acquired throughout the years 2010-2015, with 16 being operated by the air force, with 8 M-28 [Polish An-28 derivative] Bryza aircraft complementing the fleet.

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The new aircraft to be procured will probably be imported, since no relevant potential is available and offered by the Polish industry. However, the Ministry claims that any new acquisition would have to entail a relevant offset agreement.

Considering the official information mentioned above we may assume that no plans exist, among the objectives defined by the Polish MoD, to procure any new fighter aircraft, at least at the moment. With the relevant program to be started next year, we need to wait for further developments. Back in 2014  rumors suggested that the Air Force would receive new fighter aircraft by 2020, hence the current situation shows that long-term forecast, when it comes to armament procurement, may often not turn out to be realistic.

The assets which could be allocated to procure the new fighters are going to be used, instead, in order to acquire relevant systems within the Wisła and Narew air defense programs, which are both expected to be costly, considering their complexity, and urgent, in the light of the current status of the Polish IADS (Integrated Air Defense System).

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Among the analysts in Poland, two views of potential Air Force expansion exist.

The first one assumes that a MLU (mid-life upgrade) program will be launched to upgrade the F-16 jets (with AESA radars and integration of new armament including JASSM-ER missiles and possibly new Air-to-Air weaponry) along with the potential procurement of the F-16V to replace the aging Fulcrums and Fitters. Furthermore, Poland is also looking forward to expand its SEAD capabilities and the information available within the defense media-sphere suggests that procurement of the AARGM missiles for the F-16 could also be expected in the near future.

The second hypothesis assumes that new airframes, possibly Gripen-NG or the F-35, would be bought to replace the Polish Post-Soviet fighter force.

Whichever takes place, we need to patiently wait for relevant decisions to be taken.

The “procurement landscape” is quite varied, as back in 2015, when the Eurofighter Typhoon was also being promoted during the Radom Air Show, as a fighter for the Polish Air Force. What is clear though, the priorities assumed by the new right-wing government have been redefined, hence it is very unlikely that we would see any new combat aircraft in the Polish Air Force, within the upcoming decade.

This, on the other hand, would mean that whoever is elected next, would have a perfect pretext not to procure new fighters, for financial reasons.

Poland is going to be left with an air force counting of 48 F-16 jets, at least for now, as the combat usability of the Post-Soviet equipment, on the net-centric and dynamic battlefield, is highly dubious.

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Image Credit: Jacek Siminski/Wojciech Mazurkiewicz