Tag Archives: ISAF

Photo: Is this the first Taliban-made drone, ever?

Update May 19, 2012 21.18 GMT

The following pictures, courtesy of the Helmand Governor’s Media Center, show what looks like a small drone that was discovered along with poppy, small arms, ammunitions and other materials used to make improvised explosive devices (IED), by the Afghanistan’s National Department of Security in the Nar-e-Seraj district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 19.

Although the size is very small, the remotely controlled plane could be, if not the first, the most recent attempt by the Taliban to build and operate a minidrone for short range reconnaissance purposes (although, based on the images, it’s not clear where the camera is installed).

I haven’t found other images supposedly showing Taliban drones, but I can’t rule out the possibility that some other primitive robots have been either tested or operated by the insurgents in Afghanistan.

As Royal Aeronautical Society’s Tim Robinson suggests, rather than a new type it could be a recovered/modified/refitted/copied NATO one. In particular, the Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk is almost identical to the one confiscated on May 19. If it’s a NATO UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), whether the drone was airworthy and operative has still to be verified.

If you have more details about the drone showed in these pictures or previous types believed to be operated by the Taliban, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Courtesy image HGMC

Shindand airbase: Afghan Air Force main training facility

Shindand (or Shindad), in Western Afghanistan, will be the future Afghan Air Force (AAF) main training facility. Today it is the base used by the young and quite small Afghan Air Force to train its pilots and airport personnel with the help of NATO.

Over there, some 50 miles to the south of Herat, another important airbase in the region which hosts the Italian Predator UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) and the AMXs of the Black Cats, a team of Italian Air Force advisors, operating within the 838th AEAG (Air Expeditionary Advisory Group) of the USAF, has been conducting training activities such as the organization and implementation of courses related to flight operations, infrastructure, communications and Information Systems, Transport, Materials Management, Fire Emergency Procedures, POL (Petroleum Oil Lubricants), Health, Canteen and Housing, and base Security. In other words, the Italian Air Force is helping the AAF to organize its local Wing and to let it manage its airfield.

As said, the Italian advisors operates within the 838th AEAG, that belongs to the NATC-A (Nato Air Training Command –Afghanistan), one of the three command units depending from the NTM-A (Nato Training Mission Afghanistan).

The Italian Air Force Airbase Support Air Advisory Team (ASAAT) program at Shindand started on Nov. 2, 2010, and it is currently made of 29 officers and NCOs. Among them, 3 pilots and two crew chiefs/flight engineers work as mentors and advisers for the AAF and cooperate with a total of 8 Hungarian pilots and crew members for the Mi 17 helicopter program.

Shindand airport is the base of a small fleet of AAF aircraft: along with the above mentioned Mi-17s, some Cessna 208 Caravan and Cessna C-182T in an overall grey colour scheme. It will not only be the main training facility, but it is also destined to host an air interdiction squadron and also a Special Forces support unit.

Based at Kabul International Airport 14 of 20 C-27A Spartans destined to the AAF, former G-222s retired by the Italian Air Force and refurbished within a $287 milion contract awarded by the US Air Force to Alenia North America in 2008, to phase out the obsolete Antonov An-26 and An-32 and provide the AAF a new tactical transport plane capable to carry up to 20,000 pounds of cargo and fuel and operate from unprepared airstrips, unreachable by other fixed wing aircraft.

The AAF is also equipped with few operational Mi-35 attack helicopter and 2 or 3 L-39 training jets. Both types should be replaced in the near future.

Images: courtesy of the Italian Air Force

Italian Air Force Special Operations Forces training

The 21° Gruppo is one of the most famous squadrons of the Italian Air Force: formerly belonging to the 53° Stormo at Cameri, it has been a member the NATO Tiger Association since 1968. The squadron moved to Gioia del Colle on Mar. 1, 1999, and operated within the 36° Stormo until Mar. 1, 2001, when it was disbanded. The squadron was officially reactivated on Mar. 23, 2006 within the 9° Stormo at Grazzanise, with the aim to create a deployable flying unit able to perform a large variety of combat duties:

  • MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) and CASEVAC (CASualties EVACuation)
  • Personnel Recovery: CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue), NEO (Non-combatant Evacuation Operations) and HRO (Humanitarian Relief Operations)
  • Light Reconnaissance
  • Air Marshalling
  • Special Operations insertion/extraction
  • Vehicle interdiction
  • Short range transportation
  • Helisniping

Most of the above mentioned missions were flown during the several Tours of Duty in Afghanistan that have seen the 21° Gruppo’s AB.212s (UH-1N in the US designation; UH-212ICO according to the Italian Mission Design Series) operating in support of the ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) multinational force.

Since 2005, the Squadron is equipped with the AB.212ICO (Implementazione Capacità Operative – Operational Campabilities Implementation) a retrofitted version of the previous AMI-SAR model that will be employed until 2014-2015, when it is expected to be replaced by the new AW-101 CSAR helicopter. The AB.212ICO is equipped withECDS-1 Flares dispensers  for self-protection from IR-guided missiles and two MG 42/59 caliber 7.62 mm NATO machine guns on both sides of the fuselage. It wears an armored cockpit and fuselage to protect the 2 pilots and 2 gunners from small arms; noteworthy, the rudder area, vulnerable to bullets shot from the ground because of the observation windows, has been shielded with 3 inches of kevlar. The helicopter cruise speed is 90 – 100 KIAS.

The new outfit has increased the AB.212’s weight and the helicopter is unable to recover a survivor from the ground with the hoist  in the Afghan scenario [average height of 7.000 feet AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level) and ground temperature often above 40° Celsius].

The 9° Stormo, currently commanded by Col. Marino Francavilla, a pilot with 2,400 flying hours and a huge combat experience with helicopters in Somalia, Kosovo and Iraq, belongs to the 1^ Brigata Aerea Operazioni Speciali (1st Special Operations Air Brigade). Also belonging to the 9° Stormo since 2009 is the Air Riflemen Group, whose duty is to provide force protection, NBC defense, EOR (Explosive Ordneance Recognition) and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Deactivation), both at home and on deployment, within PSO (Peace Support Operations). The unit is currently deployed to Herat, where it ensures the protection of the local Forward Support Base.

The Air Riflemen Group is made of around 100 soldiers equipped with the standard assault rifle Beretta SCP 70/90 cal. 5.56mm, that will soon be replaced by the Beteretta ARX160, along with other firearms (sniper rifles, combat shotguns, guns). The unit has also some VTLM Lynx vehicles, with mounted Browning cal. 12.7 mm or  Minimi cal. 5.56 machine guns.

Much of the training activities take place at Grazzanise airbase, where the Air Riflemen operate with the 21° Gruppo and where we were invited to attend an Afghanistan-type operation involving both the rotary wing and the special forces of the 9° Stormo on Oct. 3, 2011: MEDEVAC needed to rescue a Rifleman wounded while securing a bridge located inside an insurgent-controlled area.

Giovanni Maduli took the following images.

I wish to thank Col. Marino Francavilla, Capt. Cristoforo Russo, and the ItAF PIO for giving us the opportunity to visit Grazzanise airbase during the SOF event.

Bell UH-1N Twin Huey (Agusta Bell 212) high-altitude training

The first Italian aircraft to be deployed in Afghanistan has been a Bell UH-1N Twin Huey helicopter in a version built under license by Agusta and designated AB-212. Both the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) and the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) have been called to support ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) multinational force with the AB.212, that can fulfil a wide variety of tasks, from MEDEVAC, to reconnaissance, to personnel transportation, to special forces ops.

The 21° Gruppo of the Italian Air Force has conducted several Tour of Duty in Afghanistan. Since 2005, it is equipped with the AB.212ICO (Implementazione Capacità Operative – Operational Campabilities Implementation) a retrofitted version of the previous AMI-SAR model that was upgraded in anticipation to the deployment to Kabul and surrounding areas, where the high-altitude environment is not suitable with the other CSAR helicopter in ItAF inventory, the old fashioned HH-3F that suffered a tragic incident in 2008. The AB.212ICO is equipped with two manually activated Flares dispensers for self-protection and can carry two MG 42/59 caliber 7.62 mm NATO machine guns on both sides of the fuselage. It wears an armored cockpit and fuselage to protect the 2 pilots and 2 gunners from small arms; noteworthy, the rudder area, vulnerable to bullets shot from the ground because of the observation windows, has been shielded with 3 inches of kevlar.

The new outfit has cost the aircraft half of its original endurance, currently limited to 1 hour and 40 minutes,  and the increased weight, in Afghanistan, at an average height of 7.000 feet AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level), with ground temperature often above 40° Celsius, makes the AB.212 unable to recover a survivor from the ground with the hoist.

To board people, the Twin Huey has to land. A minor problem as the following pictures taken by Capt. Giacomo Andreotti at 9,100 feet, on top a mountain in central Italy, during a routine mission of the 21° Gruppo a proud member of the NATO Tiger Association, based at Grazzanise.

High-altitude can be tricky for rotary wings: first, because of the loss of engine power; second for the loss of rotor lift caused by the thin air. That’s why helicopters suitable for high altitudes need plenty of excess power that can be spent to overcome the reduced lift and engine performance.

The AB.212 will be employed until 2014-2015 when it is expected to be replaced with a CSAR version of the AW-101.

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]