Tag Archives: Israeli Air Force

Israeli F-16I Sufa Loses Braking Action During Taxi. Pilot Forced To Veer Into A Ditch.

An unusual incident occurred to an F-16I Sufa at Ramon air base.

An Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa belonging to the 119 Squadron, also known as “The Bat” Squadron, was damaged at Ramon air base, Israel, on Oct. 31.

According to the reports, the aircraft was taxiing after landing when the pilot lost braking action: the pilot deliberately forced the Sufa into a ditch in order to stop it. The emergency maneuver prevented the aircraft from harming ground crews. The aircrew managed to escape the aircraft safely.

The incident is being investigated; the extent of the damage suffered by the aircraft is unknown.

As a side note, the F-16I Sufa was reportedly returning from a training mission. However, based on the only available image, the aircraft seem to carry at least a live GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition).

Image credit: Israeli Defense Force via @yoavzitun

Everything We Know About The Delivery of Russian S-300 Missile Systems to Syria

Let’s analyse if and how the Syrian scenario is going to change after the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Assad.

Images and video of the first Russian S-300 battery being delivered at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria have been shared by the Russian MoD starting on Wednesday Oct. 3. The announcement of the successful delivery of the long-range missile systems had arrived on Tuesday but the photographs and clip showing the missile tubes, radar and control vehicles provided a visual confirmation of the claims.

The S-300s were delivered in response to the Israeli air strike on Sept. 17 that led to the accidental downing of a Russian Air Force Il-20M Coot spyplane mistakenly shot down by a Syrian S-200 (SA-5) missile. Although the details and real causes of the downing are still controversial, Moscow made it clear it would boost the Syrian air defense, a dense system relative to the country’s size but whose backbone is a variety of old Soviet-era SAMs. Russia threatened to  impose electronic countermeasures over Syria’s coastline, suppressing satellite navigation as well as radar and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking targets on Syrian territory.

The S-300 is a mobile air defense system that couples a radars capable to track multiple targets with long-range missiles to hit aerial targets at a distance of 150 km and an altitude up to 27,000 meters. Although well-known to the western air forces, it remains a lethal SAM system.

Syria wanted the S-300 as far back as the 1980s after the first Lebanon war, but it was forced to make do with the S-200 (SA5) system, an older system still capable to bring down an advanced F-16I Sufa on Feb. 10, 2018, when several SA-5 and SA-17 missiles were fired at seven Israeli fighter jets returning from an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Palmyra in central Syria, from which the IDF said an Iranian operator remotely piloted an Iranian drone into Israeli territory an hour earlier. In that case, the IAF determined the loss of the Sufa was caused by a “professional error”: although the on-board warning system of the F-16I alerted the crew of the incoming threat, the pilot and navigator failed to deploy countermeasures.

As commented back then, the last time an Israeli Air Force jet had been shot down dated back to the first Lebanon War at the beginning of the ’80s and the air strikes did not cease after the Sufa loss. However, it must be remembered that Israel hasn’t had a real freedom of action over Syria since late 2015, when Russia decided to install an S-400 Triumf missile defense battery able to track the Syrian airspace as well as the vast majority of Israeli airspace. In fact, since then, Israel has coordinated its activities in Syria with Moscow.

According to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu the delivery of S-300 systems has been concluded. “It included 49 pieces of equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers,”  the MoD said to TASS News Agency. “We have finished personnel recruitment and have begun to train them,” said Shoigu, adding that it would take the Syrian army at least three months to learn how to use the system. It’s fair to assume that the Russians will operate the S-300s during the training period and remain for some tipe supervising operations.

The new systems were delivered by means of AN-124 Condor flights. An unusual frequency in heavy airlifter missions to the airbase near Latakia was monitored and tracked online in the days before the official announcement, suggesting an air bridge was in progress to deliver the components required to install the first S-300 batteries: as many as 6 flights between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1.

On paper, the addition of the new SAM batteries should not affect the Israeli ability to strike Syria. Thanks to stand-off weapons, the Israeli Air Force continues to be able to hit its targets as well as the SAM sites themselves in what is called a DEAD (destruction of enemy air defenses mission) if needed.

The Israeli Air Force has already gathered knowledge on the Russian defense system when it trained against the S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system stationed in Crete during INIOXOS-2015, one the largest annual exercise of the Hellenic Air Force, during which 10 Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa were able to test evasion tactics during simulated attacks against ground targets protected by S-300 batteries.

Moreover, if conventional aircraft can be theoretically tracked (or as some media outlets stated “locked on”) by Syrian air defenses shortly after take off from their airbases in Israel, the IAF can commit its radar-evading F-35I Adir to the Syrian air strikes. Indeed, the IAF F-35s have already carried out attacks in Syria, as the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin unveiled earlier this year. “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” he said showing also a famous photograph of an F-35I flying off Beirut (with radar reflectors).

This is what the Author wrote back then about the F-35 Adir’s involvement in the air strikes on Syria and the inherent risks. It still applies at the current situation:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

That said, it’s highly unlikely that Israel would attack the S-300 batteries until the Russian military operate or have those weapons under their direct control. The problem is not the system itself, but the fact that it is flying the Russian flag for some time now.

Someone has recently asked me if the presence of the S-300 is making accidental downings less likely in the crowded Syrian airspace.

The answer is: most probably yes, especially considering that Russian personnel will probably operate more modern systems (even after they are officially handed over they will probably help the Syrians) and care will be taken in properly identifying targets before firing SAMs at them (the use of “transit corridors”, reviewed radar and radio procedures will be probably implemented among the Russian-Syrian teams as well). At the same time, advanced notifications will be probably used wisely, in order to prevent other incidents that could escalate tensions even more.

That said it must be reminded that the situation over Syria will remain volatile.

Yes, there are far busier areas in the Middle East as well as the rest of the World, where the concentration of civilian aircraft is higher. Open Source analysis on flight tracking websites or apps (using ADS-B/Mode-S as I have often explained here) can just give a rough idea of the situation because it provides insights into the civil part of the story. If you observe the traffic flying over Syria using Flightradar24 at any time (you can use the playback feature to monitor flights on a large period of time with speed up to 120x) you will probably only spot some civilian traffic flying in the southwestern part of the country/east of Damascus: the airspace is mainly interested by airliners belonging to the Syrian Air, Iraqi Airways, Fly Baghdad and Cham Wings Airlines flying to/from the Syrian capital. Sometimes you’ll see an airliner crossing the airspace to the North of Damascus: these are usually civilian flights heading to Beirut. Another corridor, mainly used by aircraft heading north departing from Damascus roughly runs along the country’s eastern border. You can have an idea of the corridors used by civil traffic these days here.

Using OSINT tools we don’t get a sense of how many military flights operate over there. Besides the Russian airlifters trailing other aircraft or delivering “goods” to Latakia, and the spyplanes that operate in the eastern Med off Syria and Lebanon, little can be tracked on Flightradar24.com or other public domain flight tracking websites. But we know that there are other tactical as well as intelligence gathering (manned and unmanned) aircraft flying over Syria, both Russian, Syrian and belonging to the US-led coalition. And we also know that, every now and then, combat aircraft from different countries, not operating/cooperating under the same management/coordination and possibly using different procedures as well as ROE (Rules Of Engagement), operate in proximity one another (or close to civilian aircraft).

Deconfliction hotlines between US and Russia and between Russia and Israel have helped avoiding direct clashes (although there have been some tense close encounters in the near past before the Il-20 was downed) but the risk of human-induced accidents remains.

Top image credit: composite created using IAF/Reddit/Russian MOD/FR24.com images

Israeli Combat Aircraft Which Participated In The Attack On The Syrian Nuclear Reactor in 2007 Given New Mission Marking

Syrian Reactor Mission Markings for the jets involved in the raid.

On Sept. 6, 2007 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) destroyed the nuclear reactor in Dier ez-Zor, Syria as part of an operation named “Silent Tone” (previously unofficially named “Operation Orchard” by international media).

For more than 10 years, Israel never publicly admitted that some of its aircraft destroyed the facility in eastern Syria, even though some details about the clandestine mission leaked throughout the years. Then, on Mar. 21, 2018, the Israeli Air Force published a detailed report on its website providing official confirmation along with some details: the raid was carried out by Israeli Air Force (IAF) 69 Squadron F-15I “Ra’am” (Thunder) and 119 and 253 Squadron F-16I “Sufa” (Storm) jets and an ELINT aircraft: as many as eight aircraft participated and at least four of these crossed into Syrian airspace. The reactor was destroyed as planned shortly before being officially rendered active.

“If the nuclear reactor would have been established successfully, Israel could have shared a border with an enemy state which has nuclear capabilities,” Brig. Gen. A. who took part in the raid flying a Sufa, said in an official release. “Beyond that, the IAF’s operational activity against the Hezbollah terrorist organization and the Iranian military establishment may have been limited by the looming nuclear threat. In addition, the activity in Syria over the past years may have turned out different if it had nuclear capabilities, seeing as they might have landed in the wrong hands. The operation is of indubitable historical importance to both the state of Israel and our neighboring countries”.

On Sept. 6, 2018, 11 years after the successful raid, during a ceremony held at the Israeli Ramon and Hatzerim airbases in parallel – the attacking F-15I aircraft from the 69th (“Hammers”) Squadron and F-16I aircraft from the 253rd (“Negev”) Squadron were given special mission markings that commemorate Operation “Silent Tone”. An additional ceremony will be held on September 14th, at the 119th (“Bat”) Squadron, which operates “Sufa” aircraft as well.

The mission marking being applied to a Sufa. (IAF Spokeperson).

The aircraft were given a decal bearing the operation’s symbol: a triangle, which symbolizes a strike sortie, colored in the Syrian flag’s colors (red, black and white in the background with two green stars), and at its center, a radiation hazard symbol symbolizing the nuclear reactor.

According to the IAF website, the mission markings were imprinted by representatives who participated in the attack, representatives of the technical departments who assisted in the attack and the squadron commanders, Lt. Col. G’ and Lt. Col. R’.

The mission marking (Ranann Weiss via IAF)

According to the book “The Sword of David – The Israeli Air Force at War” written by Donald McCarthy, the ELINT aircraft that is believed to have supported the raid was a Gulfstream G550 aircraft equipped with the IAI Elta EL/W-2085 radar system by means of that the IAF took over Syria’s air defense systems, feeding them a false sky-picture.

Indeed, the success of the secretive air strike was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind. As we have often reported here at The Aviationist, many sources believe that Operation “Silent Tone” also saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems. Still, since it was not mentioned in the official release, it’s safe to assume the G550 won’t get any mission marking.

Top image: IAF

Israeli Patriot Missiles Down Unidentified Syrian Sukhoi in Border Incursion

Missile Interception Continues Escalation of Tensions Between Israel and Syria.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) reports that Israeli Patriot missile batteries have engaged and downed an unspecified Syrian Air Force Sukhoi attack aircraft. The incident happened on Tuesday Jul. 24 afternoon local time in Israel at the northeastern border with Syria near the Israeli town of Safed.

Reports indicate the Patriot missile battery that downed the Syrian aircraft was inside Safed, Israel, but that the aircraft actually crashed within Syrian borders. The Syrian media has confirmed that one of their aircraft has crashed but maintains it was operating within Syrian airspace. Safed, Israel is only 43 miles from Daraa, Syria across a disputed border territory.

At this hour, it remains unclear if the aircraft downed was a Syrian Su-22 (NATO reporting name “Fitter”) or a Syrian Su-24 (NATO reporting name “Fencer”) according to the IDF. Syria has not specified the type of aircraft lost yet. Both of the aircraft use variable geometry swept wings or “swing wings” and are large ground attack aircraft difficult for laymen to differentiate visually from the ground, even though the nose of the aircraft are distinctly different.

Confused media reports are suggesting different aircraft as being involved in Tuesday’s incident. (Photo: Google)

Syria has lost Su-24s to Israeli air defense systems before. An Israeli MIM-104D Patriot missile battery engaged and downed a Syrian Su-24 on September 23, 2014 near Quneitra, Syria, after the aircraft strayed only 800 meters into Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights. That aircraft also crashed inside Syrian airspace after both crew members successfully ejected. Quneitra is considered Syrian territory by many, but was lost to the Israelis in the a succession of border conflicts and remains disputed although claimed by Syria.

Earlier this year on March 18, 2018, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported that a Syrian Su-24 had been shot down by Syrian Jaysh Tahrir al-Sham rebels over the Eastern Qalamoon mountains in Syria.

A Syrian Air Force Su-24M2 may have been the aircraft involved in Tuesday’s shoot-down, but this is unconfirmed. (Photo: Syrian AF via Southfront)

Israeli Defense Forces have reported an increase in Syrian air activity in this border region throughout the morning according to official Israeli sources.
“We have passed a number of messages, in a number of languages, in order to ensure that no one violates Israeli air space,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

The Times of Israel quoted Israel’s former Military Intelligence Director Amos Yadlin as saying, “Israel has a very clear policy: No plane, and certainly not a Syrian plane, is allowed to enter our airspace without the appropriate authorization. Any plane identified as an enemy plane is shot down.”

Top image: Smoke trails from the launch of Israeli Patriot missiles seen on July 24, 2018 where Syrian aircraft was downed and Patriot missile battery (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90 and IDF)

F-35 Stealth Aircraft Goes “Live” On Flight Tracking Websites As It Flies Mission Over Israel

An F-35, most probably one of the Adir jets recently delivered to the Israeli Air Force, appears on Flightradar24.com: deliberate action or just a case of bad OPSEC?

On Jul. 23, an F-35 went fully visible on popular flight tracking website Flightradar24.com as it performed a mission out of Nevatim airbase. The aircraft could be monitored for about 1 hour as it went “feet wet” (over the sea) north of Gaza then flew northbound to operate near Haifa.

Noteworthy, the F-35 used a US hex code (AF351F, first logged on Nov. 15, 2016 over at Live ModeS and since then regularly tracked in the US) even though it’s safe to believe it could be one of the Adir aircraft delivered to the Israeli Air Force in the last weeks. A hex code is a unique ICAO 24-bit address assigned to a Mode-S/ADS-B transponder.

According to Mil ModeS logs possible tailcode was 13-5067, even though this should be an F-35A that last June, based on the photographs available online, was assigned to the 6th Weapons Squadron, assigned to the USAF Weapons School, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Anyway, the F-35 flying over Israel yesterday did not broadcast its position via ADS-B but it could be tracked by means of Multilateration (MLAT). Using Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) MLAT measures the difference in time to receive the signal from four different receivers, to geolocate and track an aircraft even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

As we have widely explained here at The Aviationist (read here for a complete analysis):

The ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information is transmitted on 1090 MHz frequency: ground stations, other nearby aircraft as well as commercial off-the-shelf receivers available on the market as well as home-built ones, tuned on the same frequency, can receive and process this data.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder rely on a network of several hundred (if not thousand) feeders who receive and share Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders data and contribute growing the network and cover most of the planet.

Obviously, only ADS-B equipped aircraft flying within the coverage area of the network are visible.

Actually, in those areas where coverage is provided by several different ground stations, the position can be calculated also for those planes that do not broadcast their ADS-B data by means of Multilateration (MLAT). […]

Although the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track using a browser (or smartphone’s app) using the above mentioned Web-based tracking services are civil airliners and business jets, military aircraft are also equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders: a 2010 Federal Aviation Administration rule requires all military aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B transponders by Jan. 1, 2020, as part of its program to modernize the air transportation system.

As for the reasons why the aircraft could be tracked online, there are various theories. The first one is that it was a deliberate action: considered the F-35 went “live” few hours Israel made first operational use of David’s Sling missile defense system against two SS-21 Syrian ballistic missiles, there is someone who believes the mission was part of a PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies (Syria in particular). Our readers will probably remember the weird, most probably bogus claim of an IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Al-Jarida newspaper, a Kuwaiti outlet often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages.

However the Israeli Air Force has already made public the fact that the F-35 has been used in air strikes in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately.  On May 23, the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world: “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity”. He also showed a photograph of an “Adir” flying at high altitude off Beirut (with radar reflectors, hence not in “stealthy mode”). In other words, there’s probably no need to remind Syria or Iran that the Israeli Air Force has the F-35 since they are already using it in combat.

For this reason, there is also someone who believes that the first appearance of an Israeli Adir on Flightradar24 may have been a simple mistake: the Mode-S transponder was not turned off. A case of OPSEC fail in one of the most secretive air arms in the world.

Indeed, transponders are usually turned off during real operations as well as when conducting missions that need to remain invisible (at least to public flight tracking websites and commercial off the shelf receivers). Unless the transponder is turned on for a specific purpose: to let the world know they are there. In fact, as reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether some aircraft that can be tracked online broadcast their position for everyone to see by accident or on purpose: increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them. Is it a way to show the flag? Or just a mistake?

Here’s what we have been observing for some 7 years:

[…] during the opening stages of the Libya Air War in 2011 some of the combat 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 flight tracking websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations, making their aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection. As a consequence, we have been highlighting the the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions for years. In 2014 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 circled over the Ghazni Province. Back then we explained that the only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations. US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757 operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks), American and Russian “doomsday planes”, tanker aircraft and even the Air Force One, along with several other combat planes can be tracked every now and then on both FR24.com and PF.net.

So, what’s your take on this? The “F-35 visible over Israel” was a deliberate action or a mistake? Let us know in the comments section.

H/T to @CivMilAir and Righardt du Plessis for providing help in preparing this story. Top image credit: IAF and FR24.com