Tag Archives: Helmet Mounted Display

Italian Air Force Typhoon, AMX, Tornado, T-346 And F-35A Jets As Well As Greek F-4E Phantoms Take Part In Italy’s Largest Drills In 2017

Exercise Vega 2017 put the Italian Air Force’s most advanced “hardware” to test.

Vega 2017 (VG17) is the name of the Italian Air Force-led aerial exercise included in Joint Stars 2017, Italy’s largest joint drills organized this year “to train commands and forces undertaking various types of missions that may be required in future national and multinational operations. ”

The JS17 developed through two phases. The first one, dubbed Virtual Flag 2017 (VF17), took place from Jun. 10 to 15 and was a Command Post Exercise / Computer Assisted Exercise (CPX / CAX): a virtual exercise that, among the other things, simulated the planning and execution of an Air Heavy (AH) Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (TBMD)-oriented Small Joint Operation (SJO). Noteworthy, VF17 also featured several cyber threats and attacks to the network used to disseminate information among participating units.

The second part of the JS17, which began on Sept. 25 in the form of a CPX, continued from Oct. 16 to 27 as three “federated” exercises within a LIVEX (Live Exercise), an exercise made of actual assets. In particular, this phase saw the integration of three exercises: “Lampo 17” led by the Italian Army; “Mare Aperto 2017” led by the Italian Navy; and “Vega 2017,” the Italian Air Force’s exercise.

The Livex phase of JS17 focused on a SJO in the form of a Non-combatant Evactuation Operation (NEO) and included a series of tactical events, including an amphibious operation.

Dealing with the Italian Air Force, VG17 saw the involvement of 1,000 military, 40 aircraft, 7 airbases, one GCI site and several C2 (command and control) units, the task of those was to ensure air superiority within the context of a CSO (Crisis Support Operation) as well as various other missions flown in support of the other Armed Forces, including CAS (Close Air Support), SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue), AEW-BM & C missions (Airborne Early Warning – Battlefield Management and Communication), tactical transport of operational personnel, evacuation of injured or endangered civilians.

An ItAF Typhoon with the 36° Stormo from Gioia del Colle, deployed to Trapani, during aerial refueling ops with a KC-767.

The MOB (Main Operating Base) of the exercise was Trapani, in Sicily, where Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft with the 4°, 36° and 37° Stormo (the local-based Wing), along with Tornado IDS and ECR of the 6° Stormo and AMX of the 51° Stormo were deployed.

ItAF AMX ACOL are currently deployed to Kuwait as part of the Task Force Air Kuwait supporting the coalition involved in the air war on Daesh performing reconnaissance missions. The unit has already logged more than 3.000 FH in theater.

Decimomannu, in Sardinia, was the DOB (Deployment Operating Base) for the T-346 belong to the 212° Gruppo of the 61° Stormo , for the C-27J belonging to the 46^ Brigata Aerea, for the HH-101 and HH-139 of the 15° Stormo, for the HH-212 of the 9° Stormo.

The HH-212 of the 21° Gruppo wearing the Tiger Meet special livery.

F-4E Phantom jets of the 339 Mira (Squadron) of the Hellenic Air Force, at their latest international appearance before the unit was disbanded, after 65 years of history, on Oct. 31, 2017, took part in VG17 operating from “Deci” as well.

Four Hellenic Air Force F-4E AUP jets. The HAF deployed its Phantoms belonging ot the 339 Mira to Decimomannu.

The Greek F-4E AUP Phantoms from 339 Mira took part in VG17 few days before the squadron was disbanded after 65 years.

The other supporting assets mainly operated from their homebases: the G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft of the 14° Stormo flew from Pratica di Mare, the KC-767 Tanker of the 14° and the KC-130J of the 46th Air Brigade, engaged in multiple daily sorties, operated respectively from Pratica di Mare and Pisa; the MQ-9 Predator B of the 32° Stormo, from Amendola.

Italian Tonka gets fuel from the hose of a KC-767. The Italian Air Force committed both the KC-767 and the KC-130J to support the exercise.

Dealing with Amendola, it’s worth mentioning that two F-35A Lightning II of the 13° Gruppo supported Capo Teulada’s amphibious landing on Oct. 26 (as proved by one of the videos published by the Italian MoD on the website dedicated to the JS17 exercise), before landing, for the very first time, at Decimomannu airbase.

The F-35A 5th gen. combat aircraft of the 13° Gruppo took part in a joint exercise for the very first time.

Among the most interesting things we have noticed during VG17, it’s worth a mention the fact that the F-2000s flew some sorties carrying the Litening targeting pod on the centerline pylon, most probably to support CAS missions, meaning that they were also tasked with Swing Role missions. In fact, a secondary air-to-surface capability of the the ItAF Typhoon fleet was developed back in 2015 and validated in 2016 with the participation in Red Flag 16-2 with three Tranche 2 aircraft that embedded the P1E(B) upgrades and were loaded with the latest SRP (Software Release Package) that allowed the use of GBU-16 Paveway II LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs).

A Tornado refuels while four Typhoons wait their turn on the tanker’s left wing.

VG17 featured some other interesting “firsts”: besides the G550 CAEW, at its first joint exercise [actually the aircraft has already taken part in a real operation, to secure the G7 summit in Taormina back in May 2017], the drills saw the operational debut of the T-346’s HMD (Helmet Mounted Display) system. The helmet system projects essential symbology and aiming parameters onto the visor, enhancing the pilot’s situational awareness and providing head-out control of aircraft targeting systems and sensors. The HMD coupled to its stunning performance and ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide array of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft made the T-346, playing the Aggressor role, an even more realistic “Bandit” in the aerial engagements of VG17.

T-346s from the 212° Gruppo performed the Aggressors role as part of the OPFOR (Opposing Forces).

All the images in this post were taken by The Aviationist’s photographers Alessandro Fucito and Giovanni Maduli.

Salva

Here’s why the U.S. should restart the F-22 Raptor production line instead of developing a sixth generation fighter

With some tweaks the F-22 Raptor can maintain the edge over the future fighters the U.S. adversaries are developing.

The development of a sixth generation fighter should not be a top priority for the U.S Air Force given that, according to Rob Weiss, executive vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works division, regular updates to the F-22 and F-35 would keep the edge of the current U.S. stealth fighters over China’s and Russia’s future fifth generation warplanes.

Weiss recently told to DefenseOne.com, that these aircraft already enable the U.S. to have a distinct advantage over the capabilities its adversaries are developing and that a replacement for today’s F-22 and F-35 fighter jets isn’t needed anytime soon: “We’ve done this analysis for more than a decade now and it’s clear that the fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s are very capable versus a threat and substantially more capable than any fourth-generation airplane. There’s, in our view, little point in developing a new airplane that doesn’t do anything more than what you can do as you modernize F-22s and F-35s.”

Instead the Pentagon should invest in developing “truly game-changing technologies and capabilities” that will be part of the future sixth-generation fighter whose development, added Weiss, should start in a decade or more from now.

On the contrary, the U.S. Air Force is already procuring the ultimate future fighter that will eventually replace the Raptor under the so-called Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

But, assuming that a new fighter would require no less than twenty years to be developed, restarting the F-22 production line would be for sure a more cost-effective move for the service.

The procurement of additional Raptors would also make the JSF more capable, given that as we have already explained, the Air Force said that without the support of a dedicated air superiority fighter such as the F-22, the F-35 would be irrelevant.

Furthermore reopening the Raptor production would give the chance to fix the few shortcomings the aircraft has.

For instance, thrust vectoring (TV) wasn’t a strictly needed feature since it could bring some stealthy trade-offs to the airframe of an aircraft built to achieve most of his kills silently. Moreover, although during within visual range (WVR) engagements TV can be very useful to put the F-22 in the proper position to score a kill, it requires an appropriate use to prevent the Raptor from losing energy and becoming very vulnerable.

Eventually a helmet-mounted display (HMD), which the aircraft still lacks, coupled with the recently integrated AIM-9X missile, could equally turn the F-22 into a lethal dogfighter, given that the HMD would enable the pilot to exploit the full High Off-Boresight (HOBS) capabilities of the weapon.

Fixing the F-22 shortcomings and then restarting its production line would be the best solution for the U.S. Air Force also according to Jamie Hunter, editor of Combat Aircraft Monthly, who wrote on the December 2015 issue of the magazine: “How about a risk-reduced approach for NGAD? Take the almost perfect Raptor and put it back into production, albeit this time with the tweaks that make it truly the best fighter ever can be. That approach may just help mitigate against the early cost over – runs and delays – and provide capability faster and when it’s needed.”

F-22 Vs Sixth Generation fighter

Image credit: Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard / U.S. Air Force

Up close and personal with the F-35’s 400K USD flight helmet with a X-ray vision-like imagery

Here are some interesting images of the F-35’s Helmet Mounted Display System.

The Helmet Mounted Display System is one of the most advanced system on the much debated F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

It integrates FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System) imaging, night vision and a virtual HUD (Head Up Display) that makes the F-35 the first front line combat plane without a “conventional” HUD:  the main flight and weapon aiming information are projected onto a virtual HUD on the visor.

F-35 helmet LM 2

As explained when we saw one for the first time at Farnborough International Airshow in 2012, the helmet system collects all the information coming from the plane’s sensors along and fuses it with imagery fed by a set of six cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces.

In this way, the HMDS provides the pilot with a X-ray vision-like imagery: he can see in all directions, and through any surface, with the HUD symbology he needs to fly the plane and cue weapons, through the line of sight imagery.

F-35 helmet LM 3

No matter where the pilot turns his head, the most relevant data he needs follows his eyes.

Needless to say, as many other F-35’s systems, the HMDS has suffered issues: whilst jitter and latency problems have been solved, there is still concern with turbulence and buffeting, that can cause display issues (particularly dangerous when the JSF is maneuvering to evade an enemy missile shot), decreased night-vision acuity, and information sharing when 3 or 4 aircraft fly together.

F-35 helmet LM 4

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

 

These may be the only F-22’s Achilles’ heels in a dogfight against 4th gen fighter jets

Considered almost unbeatable in the air-to-air role, the F-22 successfully debuted in combat, taking part in air strikes against ISIS targets. But what if the F-22 found a 4th Gen. opponent?

Even though we don’t know much details about them, missions flown by the F-22 Raptor over Syria marked the combat debut of the stealth jet.

As already explained, the radar-evading planes conducted air strikes against ISIS ground targets, in what (considering the 5th Generation plane’s capabilities) were probably Swing Role missions: the stealth jets flew ahead of the rest of the strike package to cover the other attack planes, dropped their Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) on designated targets, and escorted the package during the way back.

Considered that it could not carry external fuel tanks (to keep a low radar signature), the F-22 were refueled at least two or three times to make it to North Syria and back to the UAE, flying a mission most probably exceeding the 6 – 7 hours flying time.

Raptor’s stealthiness is maintained by storing weapons in internal bays capable to accomodate 2x AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, some AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (the number depending on the configuration), as well as 2x 1,000 pound GBU-32 JDAM or 8x GBU-39 small diameter bombs: in this way the Raptor can dominate the airspace above the battlefield while performing OCA (Offensive Counter Air) role attacking air and ground targets. Moreover its two powerful Pratt & Whitney F-119-PW-100 engines give the fifth fighter the ability to accelerate past the speed of sound without using the afterburners (the so called supercruise) and TV (Thrust Vectoring), that can be extremely useful, in certain conditions, to put the Raptor in the proper position to score a kill.

All these capabilities have made the F-22 almost invincible (at least on paper). Indeed, a single Raptor during one of its first training sorties was able to kill eight F-15s in a mock air-to-air engagement, well before they could see it.

These results were achieved also thanks to the specific training programs which put F-22 pilots against the best US fighters jocks in order to improve their abilities to use the jet’s sophisticated systems, make the most out of sensor fusion, then decide when and to execute the correct tactic.

The Raptor has a huge advantage against its adversaries as demonstrated by the F-22’s incredible kill ratio against USAF Red Air (which play as enemy air forces during exercises) and its F-16s and F-15s, during the exercises undertaken in the last decade: for instance, during exercise Noble Edge in Alaska in June 2006, few F-22s were able to down 108 adversaries with no losses, while during the 2007 edition of the same exercise, they brought their record to 144 simulated kills.

In its first Red Flag participation, in February 2007, the Raptor was able to establish air dominance rapidly and with no losses.

As reported by Dave Allport and Jon Lake in a story which appeared on Air Force Monthly magazine, during an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in 2008, the F-22s scored 221 simulated kills without a single loss.

Still, when outnumbered and threatened by F-15s, F-16s and F-18s, in a simulated WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfight, the F-22 is not invincible.

Raptors refuel

Apparently along with the Rafale, one aircraft which proved to be a real threat for the F-22 is the Eurofighter Typhoon: during the 2012 Red Flag-Alaska, the German Eurofighters not only held their own, but reportedly achieved several kills on the Raptors.

Even though with don’t know anything about the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) set for that training sorties and, at the same time, the outcome of those mock air-to-air combat is still much debated (as there are different accounts of those simulated battles),  the “F-22 vs Typhoon at RF-A” story, raised some questions about the threat posed to the Raptor by advanced, unstealthy, 4th Gen. fighter jets.

In fact, even though these aircraft are not stealth, Typhoons are equipped with  Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) systems and IRST (the Infra-Red Search and Track), two missing features on Raptors.

The Typhoon’s HMD is called Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS). Just like the American JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) which is integrated in the U.S. F-15C/D, F-16  Block 40 and 50 and F-18C/D/E/F, HMSS provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery. Information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor (the HEA – Helmet Equipment Assembly – for the Typhoon) , enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision.

The F-22 Raptor is not equipped with a similar system (the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts). The main reason for not using it on the stealth jet is that it was believed neither an HMD, nor HOBS (High Off-Boresight) weapons that are fired using these helmets, were needed since no opponents would get close enough to be engaged with an AIM-9X in a cone more than 80 degrees to either side of the nose of the aircraft.

Sure, but the risk of coming to close range with an opponent is still high and at distances up to 50 km an aircraft equipped with an IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system, which can detect the IR signature of an enemy fighter (that’s why Aggressors at Red Flag carry IRST pods….), could even be able to find a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22″ as a Eurofighter pilot once said.

Summing up, the F-22 is and remains the most lethal air superiority fighter ever. Still, it lacks some nice features that could be useful to face hordes of enemy aircraft, especially if these include F-15s, Typhoons, Rafales or, in the future, the Chinese J-20 and Russian PAK-FA.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this post.

Top it off: Tankers refuel RED FLAG-Alaska

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

The F-16 and the Forward Air Controller (Airborne) mission

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon is the western world’s most prolific fighter of the last 40 years.

Born in response to LWF (Light Weight Fighter) requirement for a small and agile fighter, the Viper has become U.S. Air Force’s standard multirole jet.

Among the many tasks that the F-16 can perform, there is also the Forward Air Controller (Airborne) or FAC (A) mission.

In the cool video below you can see the strafing run of eight F-16CJs belonging to 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons from Spangdahlem AB, during a NATO FACs exercise held at Nordhorn Range in Germany on Aug. 20, 2009.

But which are the skills requested to perform a FAC(A) mission?

In this kind of mission, the airborne platform has also the task to allocate fighters to targets designated by the ground troops.

Even if the FAC(A) concept dates back to WWII and, later, Korea Air War, nowadays the job generally requires a single seat plane, with a quite busy pilot who runs the radios, coordinates the attack runs with the ground troops, writes down some specific data information and flies the aircraft.

Aircraft flying FAC(A) missions usually carry a wide variety of ordnance such as dumb bombs, white phosphorus rockets (used to mark targets for inbound attackers) and also 20 mm rounds which flank the latest precision guided munitions that the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) and Sniper targeting pod (along with Link 16 and other on board tech) make more efficient.

The FAC(A) manages the Close Air Support stack, that is the vertical pier of airplanes that respond to the FAC(A)’s call for support.

While flying his own airplane and avoiding enemy Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Anti Aircraft Artillery (AAA), the FAC(A) must keep track simultaneously the CAS stack which is made up of different types of aircraft, with many different types of air-to-ground munitions most of the times, and furthermore they have different loiter times, airspeeds and ability to hit targets on the ground.

Moreover the FAC(A) also coordinates army artillery fires. Therefore, it’s a quite busy mission!

The F-16, a fast jet that offers its pilot an impressive visibility, can carry plenty of ordnance, is maneuverable even at low-speed and high AOA (Angle of Attack) and can effectively cooperate with different types of aircraft, is the perfect asset to perform FAC(A) missions.

Another aircraft quite good in the same role is the OA-10 Warthog.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force