Tag Archives: Iraq

These Photos Show U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Supporting The Fight Against ISIS With New Counter IR Missile Systems

Here are some interesting shots of U.S. Army attack choppers equipped with LAIRCM.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack choppers supporting the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq have received Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) system.

According to the service, the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment was the first unit to operate the U.S. Army’s new LAIRCM aircraft survivability equipment in combat last summer. LAIRCM is a DIRCM (Directional Infrared Counter Measures) an acronym used to describe any infrared countermeasure system that tracks and directs energy towards heat seeking missiles.

Several U.S. Army helicopters provide support to Operation Inherent Resolve: rotary-wing assets operate from multiple Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) in the region, pairing with RQ-7Bv2 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System, which performs reconnaissance and surveillance for the coalition forces. The Shadow UAS identifies enemy personnel and hands the target off to either the AH-64E Apache helos or to the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drones, the two U.S. Army’s air strike platforms in theatre.

US Army AH-64Es from Task Force Saber in Sarrin, Syria on Jul. 28, 2017. LAIRCM GLTA highlighted in the photo. (Credit: U.S. Army)

In order to perform their tasks, the attack helicopters operate at low altitude, well within the envelope of MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) possibly in the hands of Daesh fighters. Shoulder-fired missiles have long been a concern in Syria, especially in the past years when MANPADS were occasionally used (also by Free Syrian Army militants to bring down Assad regime helicopters).

MANPADS in ISIS hands have made the Syrian battlefield more dangerous to low flying helos and aircraft as proved by the fact that U.S. and coalition aircraft have been targeted by man-portable systems while flying their missions over Syria in the past. For this reason, the U.S. Army Apaches have been equipped with what appears to be the Department of the Navy Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (DON LAIRCM) system with the Advanced Threat Warning (ATW) upgrade.

The AN/AAQ-24V turret (Northrop Grumman)

The DON LAIRCM system, a variant of the U.S. Air Force LAIRCM system for fixed wing aircraft, is a defensive system designed to protect the asset against surface-to-air infrared missile threats. According to official documents, the system combines two-color infrared missile warning sensors with the Guardian Laser Transmitter Assembly (GLTA). The missile warning sensor detects an oncoming missile threat and sends the information to the processor, which then notifies the crew through the control interface unit and simultaneously directs the GLTA to slew to and begin jamming the threat.

The ATW capability upgrades the processor and missile warning sensors to provide improved missile detection, and adds hostile fire and laser warning capability with visual/audio alerts to the pilots.

LAIRCM System (Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Navy plans to fully integrate the DON LAIRCM ATW system on the MV-22 and KC-130J with the mission system software whereas the Army plans to integrate AH-64, UH/HH-60, and CH-47 helicopters.

H/T Babak Taghvaee for providing the images of the AH-64Es included in this post.

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)

USAF B-52s perform show of force in Jordan during 35-hour nonstop mission from the U.S.

Eager Lion 2016 opened by two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers.

On May 24, two B-52 Stratofortress bombers from the 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, conducted a 35-hour, 14,000-mile round-trip mission to Jordan, to perform a show of force alongside the partner Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) in Exercise Eager Lion 2016.

Eager Lion 2016

As happened last year, during the nonstop mission (that included four aerial refueling operations) the B-52s conducted air intercept training with Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16s and executed a live conventional weapons demonstration directed jointly by JAF and U.S. JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers).

“Executing these global bomber training missions supports successful integration into geographic combatant command and multinational operations, such as the current B-52 deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve,” said Adm. Cecil D. Haney, U.S. Strategic Command commander in a release. Indeed, the B-52s are currently deployed to the CENTCOM area or responsibility taking part in the air war against Daesh from Al Udeid airbase, in Qatar.

Eager Lion 2016

USSTRATCOM’s bomber force regularly conducts theater security operations with allies and partners, demonstrating the U.S. capability to launch and manage global strike missions anywhere.

The Buff’s participation in Eager Lion 2016 follows the deployment of B-52s to Morón Air Base, Spain, in February and March, to take part in Norwegian Exercise Cold Response and French Exercise Serpentex, as well as the deployment of B-2 Spirits to the Indo-Asia-Pacific in March.

Eager Lion 2016

Additionally, in April a B-52 flew a sortie to France to integrate with the French Air Force, and a B-52 also flew to South America to train with the Colombian air force.

Exercise “Eager Lion” is a recurring multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability between partner nations, and enhance regional security and stability.

Eager Lion 16 marks the second consecutive year of the integration of +50 years old heavy bomber into the exercise.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Is a Turkish UAV currently operating inside the Iraqi airspace?

What might be an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is circling over the border between Turkey and Iraq.

Increasingly, military aircraft as well as UAVs can be tracked online thanks to the emissions of their Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders.

In fact, these aircraft do not broadcast their ADS-B data but their position can be determined by means of Multilateration (MLAT).

MLAT (used by Flightradar24.com) uses Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA): by measuring the difference in time to receive the signal from aircraft from four different receivers, the aircraft can be geolocated and followed even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

This means that the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track online are civil airliners and business jets that broadcast their callsign, altitude, position and speed via ADS-B in a cooperative way to let ground stations and nearby aircraft aware of their presence, whereas military aircraft (like the U.S. Special Operations aircraft daily flying over North Africa) equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders can be tracked even though they are not broadcasting their position, because they can geolocated with MLAT.

What is happening right now over northern Iraq is at least weird.

A small aircraft or most probably a UAV, whose track appear to have originated from Turkey, is circling over northern Iraq, north of Mosul, being tracked by a feeder (a user with commercial off-the-shelf receiver available on the market) located in Erbil.

What’s unusual is that the aircraft, provided it is a UAV, is transmitting its data in the clear for everyone to see. Usually, aircraft (either manned or unmanned) performing clandestine missions can be tracked thanks to MLAT and not because their ADS-B transponder is turned on….

Any idea? Is it a drone or a small plane?

TuAF UAV over border 2

Image credit: Flightradar24.com

Italy deploys Helicopter Force (including AW-129 Mangusta attack choppers) to Iraq

NH-90 and AW-129 helicopters to be deployed to Erbil “very soon.”

The Italian Army is going to deploy a Helicopter Force made of four NH-90 multirole choppers and four AW-129 Mangusta attack helicopters to Iraq, “very soon” the Italian MoD announced on Mar. 2, 2016.

The helicopters, along with 130 military, will be based at Erbil, in the northern part of the country, and their primary mission will be Personnel Recovery and CSAR (Combat SAR) missions. However, they are likely to be there to protect the Italian team working on repairing the Mosul Dam too: on the same day the Italian MoD announced the deployment of the helicopters, the Iraqi government signed an agreement with the Italian Trevi company (worth 273 million Euro) to repair the Mosul damn, located 130 km to the northwest of Erbil.

NH90

Italian Army NH-90

This is the not the first time the Italian Mangustas (that have extensively been used in Afghanistan) are deployed to Iraq: the Italian Army operated the A-129 (a previous variant of the current AW-129D) in Iraq from 2003 to 2006, supporting the Italian Contingent based at Nassiryah.

The AW-129D is the latest variant of the A129 attack helicopter equipped with infrared night vision systems, laser systems for range-finding and target designation purposes, OTSWS (Observation, Targeting and Spike Weapon System) for Spike-ER missile guidance in fire-and-forget and fire-and-observe modes.

The Helicopter Force joins the rest of the Italian Contingent in the region, that includes about 760 advisors, MQ-1C Predator A+ UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), four Tornado bombers (for the moment flying only reconnaissance missions) and one KC-767A tanker supporting the US-led coalition jets involved in the air war against ISIS.

Image credit: The Aviationist’s Giovanni Maduli. Top image shows an AW-129 during a simulated Personnel Recovery from behind the enemy lines.