Tag Archives: ISR

Italian Tornado jets help police forces finding a marijuana plantation during anti-drug mission

Italian Tornado combat planes took part in an anti-drug mission aimed at finding a marijuana plantation not far from their homebase.

About 250 kg of cannabis were seized in northern Italy after a plantation was discovered at Quinzano, near Brescia.

Interestingly, the operation was supported by the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS aircraft of the 6° Stormo (Wing) based at Ghedi, near Brescia. The ItAF jets were in fact tasked with reconnaissance runs aimed at discovering the farm and gathering imagery that was then used by the Carabinieri (Military Police) to arrest two people involved with the plantation.

It is not the first time Italian attack planes are requested by other national agencies to perform reconnaissance missions: for instance, in the aftermath of the 6.0 earthquake that hit central Italy on Aug. 24 causing about 300 deaths, ItAF Tornados supported the relief operations collecting imagery used to map the damages to Amatrice and the nearby villages.

Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF

Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF

The Tornados have already been involved in sort-of anti-drug missions abroad: from November 2008 to December 2009, the Italian jets were deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, from where they supported ISAF with reconnaissance missions: many of these were tasked with the aim of discovering opium poppy farms and depots across a country that produces more than 90% of heroin worldwide.

In “recce” role at home and in theater, the Italian aircraft carry a Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod: the Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes.

The Reccelite reconnaissance pod is used to broadcast live video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical receivers in a range of about 100 miles.

The Tornados have used the pod in combat not only in Afghanistan, but also in Libya and more recently in Kuwait, where the aircraft were deployed to support, with ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions, the air war against ISIS.

By the way, the pod can also be carried by the AMX ACOL, the light tactical jet that has performed close air support/air interdiction and ISR missions in support of ISAF from 2009 to 2014, and have recently replaced the Tornados in Kuwait.

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Training missions in reconnaissance role see the aircraft overflying a series of targets taking photographs that are then analysed by image interpreters: during the above mentioned mission, one of the targets was a real one, a suspected cannabis farm.

Salva

Salva

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

 

Cessna’s Scorpion low cost tactical jet makes first flight

Textron has announced that Cessna Aircraft Scorpion Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Strike aircraft has conducted its maiden flight on Dec 12.

The aircraft took off from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas and flew for 1.4 hours, conducting a series of handling maneuvers that proved the aircraft features an “impressive stability and responsiveness closely matching all of the predicted parameters for today’s maneuvers – it’s going to be a highly capable aircraft for the ISR and homeland security mission set.”

On its first flight the “affordable warplane for low-threat missions” was crewed by pilot Dan Hinson, a test pilot with over 5,000 flight hours in 79 different types of aircraft, and co-pilot David Sitz.

Announced in September and developed in 24 months, the Scorpion has a cruising speed of up to 450 knots, a ferry range of 2,400 NM (nautical miles) and carries a payload of 3,000 lbs internal stores as well as underwing PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions).

Image credit: Textron

 

 

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US Navy to get Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance & Strike stealthy drones

Naval Air Systems Command (US Navy) has announced on its website that the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance has “identified a need for an aircraft carrier based aircraft system providing persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).”

It is thought that the US Navy is to release its requirements during December for the new aircraft, to be named Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance & Strike (UCLASS) . It is thought that the requirements will ask that the UCAV will need to be able to fly 2000 nautical miles from the carrier and carry a suite of weapons and sensors or a mixture of both. The aircraft would need to have stealth capability to penetrate hostile airspace and then send back the data its sensors have collected. Then, if necessary, they would have to destroy selected targets.

Many companies are developing their take on the UCLASS requirements. Lockheed Martin with their Sea Ghost UAS, Boeing (tweaked X-45C), Northrop Grumman (X-47B) and General Atomics (Sea Avenger) are the other leaders in the race to place a UAS on the decks of US carriers by 2018.

This may seem an aggressive schedule but the technology has also been tested to land a UAV onto the Deck of a carrier. Hence, it will be more than likely a case of modifying an existing design for the carrier operations.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

The Sea Avenger in a General Atomics image

Photo: MC-12W spyplane specialized in "find, fix, and finish" bad guys at its Red Flag debut

Red Flag 12-3, that took place at Nellis AFB, Nevada, from Feb. 27 to Mar. 16 saw the first ever use of the MC-12W ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) plane in the exercise.

Belonging to the 489th Reconnaissance Squadron of Beale AFB, California, (activated on Aug. 26, 2011) the MC-12s took part to the Red Flag supporting ground forces in simulated “permissive ops” scenarios, in which air threats were limited, according to the information officially released by the U.S. Air Force.

The MC-12, first fielded in 2009, is a highly modified Hawker Beechcraft 350 and 350ER with a SIGINT (SIGnal INTelligence) console and sensors capable to intercept enemy communication, fuselage bulges containing beyond the line of sight comms equipment, and a Wescam MX-15 camera that can supply live video feeds to troops on the ground. The crew includes two pilots, a sensors operator and a cryptologist who analyzes the data collected by the plane during its 6-hr missions.

Even if this was their first Red Flag, MC-12 crews have already flown several thousand missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, where their main purpose has been tracking high-value and time-sensitive targets, including people (Taliban leaders and commanders, insurgents, terrorists and other bad guys), as well as provide tactical intelligence and airborne command and control for air-to-ground operations.

Although they can stay airborne as long as drones, these planes are considered extremely valuable because, being manned, they can be flown more effectively and safely than robots in bad weather conditions.

The following pictures were taken at Nellis by The Aviationist’s contributor Tony Lovelock.