Tag Archives: Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance

While its aircraft can be tracked online, the U.S. Air Force only worries about Tweets….

Bad OPSEC (Operations Security) exposed by Air War on ISIS?

“Loose Tweets Destroy Fleets” is the slogan (based on the U.S. Navy’s WWII slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships”) that the U.S. Air Force Central Command used a couple of weeks ago for an article aimed at raising airmen awareness about the risk of sharing sensitive information on social media.

Indeed, the AFCENT article speaks directly to the threat posed by Islamic State supporters who, according to Stripes, on at least two occasions have acquired and posted online personal data of military personnel, urging sympathizers, “lone wolves,” to attack Americans in the States and overseas in retaliation for the air strikes.

The article highlights the importance of proper OPSEC to keep sensitive information away from the enemy and to prevent leakage of information that could put missions, resources and members at risk,  “and be detrimental to national strategic and foreign policies.”

Interestingly, the article only focuses on the smart use of social media. Ok, however, there are other possible OPSEC violations that the U.S. Air Force (as well as many other air arms currently supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria, or Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan) should be concerned of.

In October 2014 we highlighted the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions after we discovered that a U.S. plane possibly supporting ground troops in Afghanistan acting as an advanced communication relay can be regularly tracked as it circles over the Ghazni Province.

The only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations.

Although such risk was already exposed during opening stages of the Libya Air War, when some of the aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net and despite pilots all around the world know the above mentioned websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations making the aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection.

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USAF C-146A Wolfhound of the 524th Special Operations Squadron

During the last few months many readers have sent us screenshots they took on FR24.com or PF.net (that only collect ADS-B broadcast by aircraft in the clear) showing military planes belonging to different air forces over Iraq or Afghanistan: mainly tankers and some special operations planes.

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Canadian tanker

We have informed the U.S. Air Force and other air forces that their planes could be tracked online, live, several times, but our Tweets (and those of our Tweeps who retweeted us) or emails have not had any effect as little has changed. Maybe they don’t consider their tankers’ racetrack position or the area of operations of an MC-12 ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft a sensitive information…

A330 over Iraq

RAF A330 tanker over Iraq

Image credit: screenshots from Flightradar24.com

 

Stunning aerial photos show Textron Scorpion tactical jet in Royal Navy demonstrations

The prototype of Textron AirLand’s ISR/Strike aircraft teamed up with Vortex Aeromedia to show off its maritime capability.

The Scorpion is an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Strike aircraft with twin canted tails, two 8,000-lb turbofan engines, straight wings with internal weapons bay and  external hardpoints to accommodate precision guided munitions that made its first flight from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, in December 2013.

Scorpion_1

Developed in about 2 years and featuring a ferry range of 2,400 NM (nautical miles) and a payload of 3,000 lbs internal stores as well as underwing PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), the two-seater is the “affordable warplane for low-threat missions,” including COIN (Counter Insurgency) and SMI (Slow Mover Interceptor).

Scorpion_3

During the Scorpion’s 2015 European Tour which brought the plane to both Paris Le Bourget Airshow and the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, UK, Textron AirLand also found the time to conduct demonstration flights with the British Royal Navy and RAF.

Working with 849 Naval Air Squadron, operators of the specialist ASaC7 variant of the Sea King in the AEW (Airborne Early Warning) and ISR roles, the Scorpion tactical jet provided valuable fighter-control experience to the Navy aircrews.

Scorpion_4

In addition, Textron AirLand tested the integration of their Thales I-Master radar and L-3 Systems Wescam MX-15 DI sensor by tracking and identifying targets up to 100 miles off the British coast.

During the demonstrations, Textron AirLand said that their $20M jet operated at less than $3,000 per hour, even with engine overhaul costs accounted for: more evidence that the aircraft is perfect match for the “low-cost combat plane to contain the cost of prolonged operations,” whose need emerged during Libya Air War 2011.

Scorpion_6

After the joint operations with Royal Navy the jet returned to the US in mid-July and is scheduled to begin weapons trials in 2016.

Scorpion_8

Image credit: © Textron AirLand/Vortex Aeromedia 2015

 

Cessna’s Low Cost Scorpion Tactical Jet performs low speed interception of a Cessna 182

Scorpion aircraft performed a low speed interception of a Cessna 182.

Cessna’s parent company Textron Scorpion is a low cost Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Strike aircraft with a cruising speed of up to 450 knots.

Developed in about 2 years, the aircraft has a ferry range of 2,400 NM (nautical miles) and a payload of 3,000 lbs internal stores as well as underwing PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), is pitched for ISR and homeland security mission set.

Indeed, the “affordable warplane for low-threat missions” has shown its impressive stability and responsiveness by intercepting a Cessna 182 flying at extremely low speed: 120 KCAS (Knots Calibrated Air Speed).

The two-seater with twin tails, a two 8,000 lb turbofan engines, straight wings and all-composite fuselage seems be a perfect match for the “low-cost combat plane to contain the cost of prolonged operations,” whose need emerged during Libya Air War 2011.

Even if it is unclear whether such platform has real chances to see active service within the U.S. or any other country’s air arm, for sure the image of the mock interception on the C182 shows that the Scorpion would be capable to perform, if needed, even the SMI (Slow Mover Interceptor) role.

Image credit: Textron

 

 

 

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Behind the Scenes: What It's Like Inside a Predator Drone Control Station

Once closely guarded military secrets, remotely operated Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are now widely known to play a vital role in modern wars. But even while most people recognize that UAS are extremely important, they usually don’t know how they are controlled and by whom.

TechNewsDaily was recently invited to take a rare behind-the-scenes tour of a UAS ground control station in Italy that is jointly shared by the Italian and U.S. air forces to demystify some of the operations of these robot warrior aircraft.

A new breed of fighters

UAS are able to silently fly for 20 or more hours deep inside enemy territory; can carry a wide array of sensors, radars and even weapons to identify or attack time-sensitive targets; and, above all, they are “expendable” because they are controlled from a remote Ground Control Station by pilots who fly them in the same way you might fly a virtual plane in a flight simulator game.

Drones have been supporting ground troops, helping them to identify suspect activity and to prevent IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. More recently, they were dispatched to attack Gaddafi forces in Libya, and also played a vital role in Operation Neptune’s Spear in Pakistan, where they helped monitor Osama bin Laden’s compound prior to the Navy Seals raid that resulted in the al-Qaida leader’s death.

A UAS consists of four main components: the remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), its sensors, its Mobile Ground Control Station (MGCS), and its data link and communication suite. That’s why the term UAS, which describes the whole system, is preferred to UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).

There are several types of remotely piloted vehicles in operation, but with a combat debut dating back to the ‘90s in the Balkans, and several years of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya, the General Atomics Predator has become the primary and most famous U.S. unmanned platform.

Other nations have recognized the importance of the UAS as well. Among them, Italy used its first RQ-1A Predators in Iraq from 2004 to 2006 and later deployed them in Afghanistan, where they have logged more than 7,000 hours of flight since 2007. The Italian Air Force (ItAF) is also equipped with the first two of six ordered examples of the most advanced Predator B (known as the MQ-9 “Reaper” in the U.S.), which has an improved internal and external payload, is able to fly at higher altitudes and could soon be used to boost NATO ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities in Libya.

Teamwork

In order to understand how Predators operate, we visited the MGCS located at the Amendola airbase in southeast Italy. The Amendola airbase is home to the 28 Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32 Stormo (Wing), which manages the entire Italian UAS force and remotely controls drones of the Task Group “Astore” performing ISR missions, convoy escorts, and special operations in Afghanistan. The technologies and procedures used by the ItAF and USAF are very similar, with the main difference being Italian Predators don’t currently carry missiles or bombs.

The aircraft operates with clear line-of-sight to the ground data terminal antenna, while over-the-horizon communication is achieved via satellite link. Both control modes can be used during the same mission.

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[Read the rest of my article (with picture gallery) on Tech News Daily]

Italy is ready to use the new Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) drones in Libya to improve NATO ISR capabilities

On Jun. 28, 2011, the ItAF officially presented its first two of 6 Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) during an interesting ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Media Tour at Amendola, Italy’s UAV Main Operating Base (MOB).

During its initial briefing, Col. Fabio Giunchi, Cdr of the 32° Stormo (Wing), the parent unit of the 28° Gruppo (Sqn) which flies the Italian drones, affirmed that Italy’s has already achieved an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the Predator B and could employ it, if needed, in Libya, to strengthen the NATO ISR component by mid July.

According to Col. Giunchi, operating from Amendola, the UAS could reach Libya in 3 flying hours, with an “on station” time of about 12-14 hours.

The Italian new UAVs could soon be armed even if the final decision whether to equip the MQ-9 for instance with Hellfire missiles will have to be taken at political level. Joint commands have already agreed that, having the capability, the UAS (Unmmanned Aerial Systems) should carry weapons that “could help saving lives”, Giunchi says.

In the meanwhile, the Predator A+ have just logged more than 7.000 FH in theatre operating from Herat in missions lasting on average 8-9 hours. Two RQ-1 are currently in Afghanistan, while two are at Amendola airbase. Unfortunately, one of them crashed landed at 09.15Z on Jun. 27 on approach to Herat airbase.  Extent of damages to be evaluated.


A more detailed article about the Amendola Media Tour and about the Italian ISR component (Tornado and AMX comprised) will be soon published on this blog.