Tag Archives: Israeli Air Force

Poland Deploys Its F-16 Jets For Blue Flag 2017, Israel’s Largest Ever Exercise

Blue Flag is the largest ever aerial exercise in Israel.

Gathering more than 100 aircraft from 8 countries, Exercise Blue Flag 2017, underway at Ovda, in Israel, is the biggest exercise ever organized by the Israeli Air Force. Combat planes from the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, India, Italy and Israel are taking part in the drills.

The main focus of the exercise has been placed on reconnaissance, air-strikes and SEAD operations.

As the Polska Zbrojna outlet reports, Poland has sent six F-16 jets and 120 soldiers to participate in the operation. Starting from Nov. 2. the Polish pilots were involved in briefings, with the first missions scheduled for the subsequent weekend.

The exercise involves large multinational flight-groups with a variety of aircraft types in a classic COMAO scenario. The Polish pilots are stating that the experiences gathered during the operation would be invaluable, with the flights taking place over the whole territory of Israel, over the deserts, the sea, at night and during the day.

One of the issues that the pilots need to get ready for is the fact that the air over the operational theater in Israel would by much more dusty, with a possible impact on operation of the sensors, as one of the Polish pilots, Col. Przemysław Struj, said within his statement for Polska Zbrojna.

Nonetheless the experience is not be entirely new for the Polish crews as the Polish F-16 aircraft have already taken part in a Blue Flag exercise in the past and have supported Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led air war on ISIS, from Kuwait. However, for some of the pilots the Blue Flag operation will be a first-time flying over the desert. The scenario also assumes usage of means of electronic warfare.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski

Israeli Air Force Jets Hit Targets Near Homs During Latest Covert Air Strike In Syria

Latest Israeli Air Strikes May Escalate if Iranian Involvement in Region Grows.

Israeli combat aircraft secretly pounded targets in the Hisya area of Syria south of the city of Homs on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The air raid, the latest in a long series of Israeli air strikes in the region, targeted a “storage facility in an industrial complex” according to the pro-Syrian government media outlet Masdar News. The Israeli military has declined to comment on this, most recent, in a series of airstrikes. Israel’s Channel 10 news outlet said no aircraft were hit during the strike and all Israeli planes returned safely to base.

Although unconfirmed, at least one media outlet suggested the facility may have been used to house chemical weapons.

Photo published on Debka.com showing alleged damage from Israeli F-16 strike on November 1, 2017. (Photo: Debka.com)

The most recent Israeli airstrikes continue an escalating series of attacks launched by Israel into Syria. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have occasionally tweeted that some of the air strikes are in response to provocative actions on the part of terrorist groups in the region. Israel has remained silent about some of the airstrikes.

Among the most recent incidents:

  • On September 7, 2017, Israeli aircraft struck Syria’s Masyaf chemical site in response to intelligence suggesting chemical weapons may be produced or stored there. An unspecified international monitoring organization quoted in a BBC report said the target was a scientific research center storing surface-to-surface missiles. The Israelis issued no official statement about the incident.
  • On September 18, 2017, an Israeli MIM-104D Patriot missile engaged and shot down a “Hezbollah intelligence gathering drone” according to media reports. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted that Monday that, “A short while ago, the IDF intercepted a UAV that attempted to infiltrate Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights”. Media outlet Fox News reported that the drone shot down was an Iranian-made reconnaissance drone that launched from an air base in Syria. The report said it was believed to be operated by Hezbollah militants. The drone, which did not infiltrate Israeli territory, fell in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights.
  • On October 16, 2017, Israeli combat jets struck and destroyed a Syrian anti-aircraft missile battery east of Damascus, Syria. The Israeli airstrike was in response to anti-aircraft fire against one of its aircraft in Lebanese air space performing a photographic reconnaissance mission according to the Israelis.
  • On October 21, 2017, Israeli aircraft launched precision strikes against artillery emplacements in Syria. Israeli reports posted on Twitter said three enemy artillery emplacements were destroyed.

The Israeli Air Force, and in particular its F-16 units, have earned a reputation as being highly effective. Some sources suggest they may be, “Man for man, the best air force in the world”.

Israeli F-16 units are often considered the most combat proficient in the world as a result of training and operational experience. (Photo: IDF)

A May 2001 report in Jane’s Defense quoted on the IsraelMilitary.net news forum said, “U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets from the Balkans theater recently engaged in mock combat with Israeli Air Force fighters. The Hornets were armed with AIM-9 (Sidewinder air-to-air missiles) and the Israelis carried Python 3 and Python 4 missiles using the Elbit DASH helmet mounted sight. IDR’s source described the results as ‘more than ugly’, the Israelis prevailing in 220 of the 240 engagements”

Noteworthy, after most of the recent air strikes there have been speculations that the first, brand new F-35I “Adir” might have been involved in the raids: in particular, after the Oct. 16 attack on a Syrian SAM battery, there were unconfirmed reports that an IAF F-35 was hit by the Syrian air defenses because on the very same day the IDF announced an “Adir” had been grounded following a birdstrike.

Top image credit: Tomas Del Coro/Wiki

Israeli Air Force F-35I “Adir” Involved In A Bird Strike Incident Gets Grounded

An Israeli Air Force F-35 has been involved in a bird strike during a training sortie. And the incident has fueled some weird speculations…

An Israeli Air Force F-35I “Adir” (Mighty) was involved in a bird strike incident during a training sortie two weeks ago, the Israeli Defense Forces said on Oct. 16. The pilot managed to land the plane safely back at Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev Desert and no casualties were reported.

This is the first incident to an F-35 in IAF service since the first two aircraft have been taken on charge by the 140 “Golden Eagle” squadron in December last year.

The IDF confirmed those details to Israeli media outlets: “During a training sortie two hits were found on the plane, following to a collision with a bird. After an evaluation and assessment of the damage conducted together with the manufacturer – Lockheed Martin, the plane was sent to a normal maintenance and repair. It will return to full service in the next few days.”

Seven “Adir” aircraft have been delivered to the Israeli Air Force since December 2016. In August, a deal was completed for the purchase of another 17 such aircraft: therefore 50 such aircraft will be operated by the IAF equipping two squadrons. The total amount of the deal to purchase the 50 aircraft is estimated at 6B USD.

Meanwhile, the Golden Eagle Squadron continues to perform a wide array of flight tests to verify the 5th generation aircraft capabilities. The Squadron is scheduled to become operational by the end of this year.

The news of the birdstrike incident was released on the very same day the Israeli targeted a Syrian SAM battery that had attacked IDF aircraft during a routine flight over Lebanon fueling speculations that the F-35 was not grounded by a birdstrike but because it was hit by the Syrian air defenses. In fact, the Syrian Defense Ministry said in its statement that government forces responded to the violation of the airspace and “directly hit one of the jets, forcing [Israeli aircraft] to retreat.” On the other side the Israeli denied any aircraft was hit by the Syrian air defenses (S-200 battery) and this sounds quite reasonable considered that the Israeli have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace and there would have been no reason to disclose a fake birdstrike at all to cover a Syrian hit.

Image credit: Author

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Photos Of AH-64D Apache Armed With “Spike” Missiles Prove That The Weapon Is Operational For the Israeli Attack Helicopters

Recent photos show the Israeli Air Force AH-64D carrying Rafael “Spike” missiles.

Taken by Noam Menashe recently, the images in this post show IAF AH-64D “Saraf” of the 113 “Hornet” Squadron based at Ramon, Israel, carrying the indigenous Spike missile system in what appear to be the NLOS (Non-Line Of Sight) variant.

According to AFM, the photos have been cleared by the Israel Defense Forces censor proving that the missile system is now officially considered part of the Israeli “Saraf” armoury.

The NLOS is an ultra-long range version of the precision attack system believed to have a maximum range of up to 25 km and a weight of 70 kg.

According to Rafael, the SPIKE NLOS weapon system can be operated in either direct attack upon target detection using LOBL (Lock-on Before Launch) Mode or firing from stand-off in automatic navigation mode based on operator or target acquisition system provided coordinates (INS navigation).
A bidirectional RF data link enables transmission of the missile seeker video image to the operator as well as real-time updating or steering of the missile.

Indeed, along with the range and non-line of sight firing capability, the electro-optically guided Spike has the ability to switch between targets and abort its mission if the operator believes the initial target should no longer be engaged.

Spike NLOS can also receive target data from remote target acquisition systems, such as airborne UAVs, or remotely operated via networked command and control systems. The communications between the missile and operator is conducted over an optical fiber, enabling effective, broadband, secure two-way communications.

The AH-64D “Saraf” 743 with the Spike NLOS missiles. Image credit: Noam Menashe

 

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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)