Tag Archives: Heyl Ha’ Havir

Analysis: This could be the airfield in Azerbaijan used by the Israeli Air Force to attack Iran

Even if it is not easy to identify the Azeri airbases the Israeli Air Force would use in case of attack on Iran I thought that it might be interesting to select the one that I would pick if I had to plan a complex strike operation.

I consider quite unlikely the possibility that the IAF will use one of the available airfields in Azerbaijan to launch the first strike for the political/diplomatic consequences as well as the risk that any weird activity spotted there would be a clear sign of an imminent strike. Furthermore, the first strike will involve the largest packages and the creation of a sort-of forward operating base from where first attack sorties could be launched would require a prior air bridge, much support personnel, weapons: something difficult, still not impossible, to hide.

Hence, I will select an airport that could be an used as an intermediate stopover on the return leg from the raid and to launch another strike thereafter; let’s consider it as divert field the Israeli fighters could use for refueling or to get technical assistance. In this case, they would not need much things over there: fuel, support personnel and some technical equipment needed to perform maintenance activities on the planes experiencing (minor) failures.

The same airport could be used to host KC-130s for aerial refueling, as well as Combat SAR assets, even though I would base the latter elsewhere, not far from the border and on an improvised airfield (no need for runway, aprons, taxiways, and so on).

I’ve checked all airports in Azerbaijan using Google Earth. Provided the Israeli were given the clearance to use the Azeri airspace and airports, any runway long enough, could be suitable in case of failure with the airbases equipped with arresting cables and safelands obviously preferred.

Some of the Azeri airports considered in the analysis (all screen dumps taken with Google Earth)

Baku Kala

Many reports have pointed to Baku Kala, near the capital, on the Caspian Sea, 330 miles from Tehran. The base hosts Azeri combat choppers and transport aircraft. Bringing cargo planes over there in anticipation of an air strike would disclose the imminent attack. Unlikely.

Baku Kala airbase

Lankaran

Lankaran, in the South, 34 km from the Iranian border, would be the “most obvious” airbase and for this reason any activity on the small runway would be immediately noticed. Unlikely.

Khankendi

Khankendi in the southwest part looks like abandoned. It is located far from any large town under the control of the de facto control of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has a few aprons and a taxiway (seemingly in very bad conditions) and a runway about 2,000 mt in length. It was due to be opened to commercial traffic but the opening date of the airport was postponed. Provided the security of the air operations could be ensured in the disputed area (de jure recongnized as part of Azerbaijan) this is one of the airfields I’d consider for a special operations/CSAR force also because of the limited implications for Baku.

Another similar airport (with grass runway) is Tanrykulular in the north part of the country (a bit too far from Iran).

Khankendi

Dollyar

Dollyar airbase is among those I consider suitable, the farthest from Tehran (465 miles). However it is a functional airbase, with empty shelters (some of which destroyed…), taxiways, aprons. A lonely Mig-25 can be spotted using Google Earth. Although a bit distant from Iran, it is also quite isolated. The presence of a Mig makes it an active airbase where movements of planes would not be too suspicious. I think this is one of the likely “places”.

Dollyar

Aghstafa

Aghstafa has just a runway (in poor conditions), it’s far from Iran and relatively next to a village (and to the border with Georgia): I think this airport can be removed from the “list” of suitable airfields.

Gyanzdah

Gyanzdah seems to have the proper infrastructures but it is reported to be also a civilian airport opened to the general air traffic. Indeed the main apron has a mini-terminal: the arrival of foreign military cargos would not be unnoticed. I think it’s quite unlikely it would be considered as a suitable airfield.

Continua a leggere

Azerbaijan to host Israeli Air Force planes in case of attack on Iran?

Several news agencies have been running a news story, that appeared first on the Foreign Policy website, according to which Israel has secured the use of at least one of four former Soviet era airbases in Azerbaijan. Something that was often speculated in the last weeks.

At what first appears an unlikely alliance is anything but. Even Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev described his country’s relationship with Israel as an iceberg: “Nine-tenths of it below the surface” in a leaked memo by Wikileaks during 2009.

Azerbaijan and Israel signed a $1.6 billion arms deal for drones and missile defense systems as recently as February. Israel is also Azerbaijan’s largest oil customer so once all of this is pieced together the bigger picture starts to become apparent, even if no one really knows the full extent of the military links between the new allies.

Foreign Policy mentions that one former CIA analyst doubted that Israel will actually launch strikes from Azerbaijan describing it as “too chancy” politically and Azeri officials have already denied the possibility that IAF was granted access to local airbases.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Indeed, the likely scenario is that the strike jets will not launch from the Caucasus but that they could  recover to the airbases in Azerbaijan after the strikes on the nuclear facilities in Iran and could either return home or launch follow up strikes thereafter.

What makes this scenario favoured is also that the main airbases in Azerbaijan are supposed to be closely monitored by Iranian observers and, unless the Israeli plans to use improvised airfields, any deployment of Israeli planes before the attack would be a clear sign of an imminent kick-off of the strike.

On the other hand, having an airbase close to Iran would also the IDF the opportunity to deploy and eventually launch ELINT or SIGINT sorties prior to the strike as well as Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) missions should the need arise.

Continua a leggere

Israeli F-15I to be equipped with removable probe for buddy air-to-air refueling in case of attack on Iran?

Even though nobody knows if an attack on Iranian nuclear program will ever be launched by the Israeli Air Force almost all analysts concur that, whathever its size, the strike force will be made of a certain amount of F-15Is, the Israeli version of the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle.

Like all the other assets involved in the extremely difficult strike, the IAF F-15s would face serious fuel problems on such a long journey, requiring the support of several tankers; a tanker force whose presence has become paramount for the successful outcome of modern air campaigns (as shown by the Libya Air War).

Above images by Alessandro Borsetti

As the American Strike Eagles, the Israeli F-15Is can be refueled by tankers equipped with a flying boom, using a boom receptacle embedded in the left wing root.

This means that, on the way to their targets, they will have to be refueled several times by either Israeli B-707s or American tankers (U.S. KC-135 and KC-10).

Although the IAF is believed to have 8 B707 still airworthy, someone believes that other planes were reconfigured to serve as tankers in case of a strike. But, at the refueling altitudes this kind of aircraft operates (much lower than the 50,000 feet someone affirmed!), they would be vulnerable to air defenses and, above all, visibile from many miles away announcing the incoming strike with a certain advance.

That’s why the possibility that the F-15I would not only by used as bombers but also as buddy tankers (e.g. to refuel other F-15s in a similar way Tornados or Super Hornets do) is quite likely, even if it would imply the use of an IFR (In-Flight Refueling) probe to be used to take fuel from a hose and drogue system in place of the boom/receptacle system.

In the past, the Israeli Air Force modified its F-4s with a cheap probe much easy to mount and quite effective. A similar kit could be also developed for the Israeli F-15I, in anticipation of a long range strike, as someone speculates. Even if the fuel transfer rate of the fixed boom is higher than the one of a hose and drogue system, and the kit would reduce the aircraft’s top speed, the use of an IFR on the F-15I could give the possibility to the Israeli planners to embed some tankers within the strike package thus reducing the “attack footprint”.

According to a CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) document issued in 2009, studies have already taken place regarding buddy refueling between F-15Es that can be packaged in  an external tank or CFT (Conformal Fuel Tanks). I’ve not found anything to confirm this report, but a similar system has been developed for the UAE AF F-16.

However, if Israel has developed such kit it’s quite unlikely that we will be able to see it: it would be the proof that they are about to launch a deep strike.

In the above rendering by Al Clark, an Israeli F-15I refuels from a US KC-10 over the desert on its way to the target. Al Clark has also drawn a fictional, scene involving an F-117. If you want to see it click here.

How IRIAF F-14 Tomcats could be (effectively) used in combat against Israeli or U.S. planes or drones

A previous article about the theoretical Israeli strike on Iran with the rendering of an F-15I dropping bombs on Tehran got a lot of attention and sparked debate. Someone criticized it for not being enough realistic, even if I had explained that the image had to be taken as such even if contained one (or more) wrong details. It was not supposed to be accurate that’s why I didn’t ask Al Clark, who designed it, to correct some elements of artist freedom.

In this article, a new Al’s artwork below gives me the opportunity to write something about one of the most famous aircraft in IRIAF inventory: the F-14 Tomcat.

According to “IRIAF 2010“, the book published by Harpia Publishing and written by Tom Cooper, Babak Taghvace and Liam F. Devlin, that I consider one of the most detailed sources about Iran’s Air Force, due to the lack of some spare parts, the fleet of more than 40 Tomcats is roughly divided into “airworthy” and “fully mission capable aircraft”.

The first fly without primary weapon systems and/or no AWG-9 radar; the second can perform QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) and air defense missions.

These aircraft are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.

Hence, although IRIAF officials have described the current fleet of F-14s as “completely overhauled” and “improved”, and referred to it a a “new generation of bombers” in the recent past, only a small amount of Tomcats can be used for air defense purposes in spite of the large amount of spare parts that Iran was able to clandestinely collect after the type was retired by the U.S. Navy and the efforts of various domestic companies to produce some specific parts and subsystems.

What is the role the Tomcat could play in a hypothetical war against Israel?

As already explained in the blog post about the possible long range strike on Iran’s nuclear program, IRIAF interceptors, should play “hide and seek” with the enemy forces: they could hide from the incoming packages and try to achieve some kills during the egress phase. They could be effective by simply disturbing the strike packages to let them “feel” the threat and waste some gas.

The Tomcats could somehow be effective against isolated targets, like drones, mainly before or after the first waves of air strikes: even a UAV kill could play a role in the psychological war against Israel.

For sure, radar activation would be reduced to a minimum: during the most intense part of the air campaign their AWG-9 radar would be either jammed (although it was domestically modified or locally upgraded to make it more jamming-resistant) or detected as soon as switched on, with the latter hypothesis implying the risk of interception by enemy fighters.

Obviously, just in case: before the whole thing starts the planes should be dispersed on one of the several Iranian airbases to prevent them from being destroyed on the ground at TFB.8.

Image by Al Clark for The Aviationist

Image: Israeli F-15 strike on Tehran on Day 1 of the war on Iran’s nuclear program

Update Mar. 8 19.00 GMT

The following drawing, exclusively prepared by Al Clark for The Aviationist, shows how an attack by a formation of F-15Is on a nuclear facility located in downtown Tehran might look like.

Obviously, it is only a fictional scene, however it is quite realistic for an eventual strike on the Tehran Nuclear Research Center, that is located not far from the Milad Tower, clearly visible on the background.

Someone might argue that the first and most of strikes would be launched at night. That is true, but it is quite likely that subsequent missions would be flown during daylight conditions too. Even the surroundings of the Nuclear Research Center are probably a bit different from those depicted, the payload could be different, tanks would be dropped, altitude should be higher and so on, but please take it just as an interesting artwork.

Please note that I’ve used the word “image” on the title because it is not a drawing, nor a rendering or a photo. It is a Computer Generated Imagery (CGI).

Image by Al Clark for The Aviationist