Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

Exclusive: What nobody else will tell you about the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters deployed near Iran

Update May 2, 2012 16.05 GMT

The news that multiple F-22 stealth fighters were deployed “near Iran” has already been reported by the most important media outlets all around the world.

However, nobody has been able to provide some important details that could be useful to better understand the scope of this overseas deployment: when did the Raptors deploy? How many aircraft were deployed? Where?

And, above all, are those plane capable to perform strike missions in addition to the standard air-to-air sorties?

Thanks to the information provided by several sources, The Aviationist is able to fill the gaps, provide a more accurate view of the deployment and debunk some myths that fueled the media hype.

The six F-22 Raptors currently at Al Dhafra, UAE, belong to the 49th Fighter Wing, based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. They flew as “Mazda 91” to Moron, Spain, on Apr. 17 and departed again for their final destination on Apr. 20.

Since they spent some 4 days in Spain, during their stay, the stealthy planes were photographed by several local spotters that were able to provide the exact list of all the examples involved in the deployment:

#04-4078, #04-4081, #05-4093, #05-4094, #05-4098, #05-4099.

If they were not willing to let the world know of such deployment they would not make a stopover in Spain, during daylight.

They are all Block 3.0 (or Block 30) examples meaning that neither of them has received  the latest upgrade (Block 3.1) that has brought the capability to find and engage ground targets using the Synthetic Aperture Radar mapping and eight GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to the troubled stealthy fighter.

Therefore they are hardly involved in any build-up process in the region, since their role in case of war on Iran would be limited to the air-to-air arena: mainly fighter sweep (missions with the aim to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft prior to the arrival of the strike package), HVAA (High Value Air Asset) escort and DCA (Defensive Counter Air).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Considered the limited effectiveness of the Iranian Air Force, it is much more likely that the F-22s involved in any kind of attack on Iran would be those of the 3rd Fighter Wing, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska, that was the first U.S. Air Force unit to receive the Block 3.1 planes and has already started training in the air-to-surface role.

Furthermore, the deployment is among those scheduled several month in advance and this is not the first time the F-22 deploys in the United Arab Emirates. In November 2009, some 1st Fighter Wing’s Raptors from Langley AFB, flew to Al Dhafra, to train with the French Air Force Rafales and the RAF Typhoons during exercise ATLC 2009. The episode is quite famous because in late December of the same year the French Ministry of Defense released the captures taken by the Rafale’s OSF (Optronique Secteur Frontal) showing an F-22 in aerial combat. In fact, although the U.S. Air Force pilots told that their plane was undefeated during the exercise, the French were killed once in six 1 vs 1 WVR (Within Visual Range) engagements versus the F-22 (the other 5 ended with a “draw”) and one Raptor was claimed as killed by a UAE Mirage 2000 during a mock engagement.

Here’s the famous capture released at the time and published for the first time by Air & Cosmos magazine.

Image credit: French MoD via Air & Cosmos

Bring on some bandits! Combat pilots to fight against computer generated aggressors. During actual training flights.

Even if WVR (Within Visual Range) contests made famous by Top Gun movie, are still the most exciting (and disputed….) part of a combat pilot’s training, future wars’ most likely scenarios are those played on the long distance.

BVR (Beyond Visual Range) set ups (1 vs 2, 2vs 2, 2 vs 4, and so on) is still what pilots have to be proficient at, if they want to survive super-maneuverable stealth fighters, outnumbering friendly planes. Indeed, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps routinely fly against “Aggressors” or “Adversaries” (this one in the naval slang), whose aim is to simulate enemy tactics as those used by the Sukhoi Su-30s in combat and play the “Red Force” during large Red Flag exercises.

However, there are not enough opponents to give pilots the opportunity to improve their ability to employ their weapons systems against multiple bandits and maximize the training return. That’s why, USAF and Lockheed Martin have developed a new training system, dubbed Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) training technology, that is going to revolutionize combat pilots training: the LVC generates adversaries on the fighter’s sensors just like real enemy fighters that behave exactly how the real enemies would.

Hence, when a Wing wants to train four pilots, it would need “only” four planes since no additional aircraft is required: in accordance with the training purposes, they will have the opportunity to fight against eight to twelve adversaries, that would be controlled by instructors who can manage their tactics or virtually fly them from one of the cockpits in a Networked Training Center. Like the one at Luke AFB, where the new mission control system for F-16 LVC training was installed.

Obviously, such virtual, aggressors will have to be kept out of visual range.

The LVC would help greatly the F-22 Raptor units who have difficult time finding high performance aggressors to fly against, as well as F-35 squadrons, that are going to face similar problems in the near future.

Richard Clements has contributed to this article.

F-16 Flying Over Arizona

Image credit: Torch Magazine/Flickr

Video: F-22 Raptor in action during Red Flag 12-3

As reported by Wired’s Danger Room, the F-22 Raptor has finally achieved the full combat readiness.

The latest (software) upgrade (Block 3.1) has brought the capability to find and engage ground targets using the Synthetic Aperture Radar mapping and eight GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to the troubled stealthy fighter that remained grounded for several months in 2011 following “hypoxia-like” symptoms experienced by Raptors pilots in 12 incidents since 2008.

Since the first modified planes were delivered to the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, those that took part to the Red Flag 12-3 at Nellis AFB, Nevada , belonging to the 27th FS from Langley AFB, Virginia, did not feature the Increment 3.1 and could only play the air-to-air role.

The following interesting HD video shows the 1st FW planes at work during the most recent Flag.

F-22 and F-15E mishaps: two accidents, one cause. And not even drones are pilot's error-free

The U.S. Air Force has recently made available two Accident Investigation Board (AIB) reports about mishaps that have become somehow famous in the last year or so.

Until the U.S. Air Force released the investigation report about the mishap involving the F-15E Strike Eagle “Bolar 34” lost over Libya on Mar. 21, 2011, during Operation Odyssey Dawn, the widespread opinion (as well as the official version) was that the cause of the loss was an unspecified technical failure. However, the official report publicly released on Dec. 18 (and available along with many more here: http://usaf.aib.law.af.mil/index.html) found a pilot error as the root cause of the accident.

According to the report, the cause of the mishap was the Strike Eagle sudden departure from controlled flight after exceeding the critical angle of attack during a combat egress maneuver (after GBU-38 release), conducted at a previously untested altitude with unbalanced aircraft.

Although the crash cost the U.S. taxpayers about 48 milion USD, both the pilot and WSO, belonging to the 492nd FS from RAF Lakenheath (temporarily deployed to Aviano AB, Italy), ejected safely and were rescued, while the remains of the plane were bombed in order to prevent someone from inspecting the wreckage (something that the U.S. would have done on the intact RQ-170 drone captured by Iran on Dec. 4).

Pilot error was blamed for fatal loss of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor “Rocky 03” tail number 06-4125, assigned to the 525th
Fighter Squadron, that crashed on Nov. 16, 2010, approximately 120 nautical miles northeast of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

This along with a series of reports of disorientation and hypoxia-like syntoms complained by 14 pilots on 6 different airbases , led to a four-month stand down, lifted just to let the stealthy fighters based at Langley AFB, leave their homebase to escape Hurricane Irene in what was an early implementation of the return-to-flight plan.

At the time, carbon monoxide entering the cockpit OBOGS (onboard oxygen generating system) was considered one of the most likely causes of the hypoxia, a condition of inadequate oxygen supply that can have fatal consequences.

Although the root cause of the oxygen problems was not identified, the fleet of fifth-generation fighters was cleared back to fly to be ordered to cease flight operations again following another problem experienced by a Raptor pilot. The radar-evading plane returned to normal activity on October 25. In 2012, the costly and troubled fighter plane will be the only single-ship demo team of the U.S. Air Combat Command.

According to the accident report, the mishap was not caused by the OBOGS.

During the RTB (return to base) phase, when the mishap pilot attempted to rejoing with his flight lead at 1,039 knots true airspeed  (KTAS) at 38,400 feet (ft), his aircraft suffered a bleed air leak malfunction. As a consequence, the OBOGS did shut down (along with the cabin pressure and other on board systems) and the pilot most probably suffered a sensation of oxygen deprivation or “severely restricted breathing”. He channellized his attention on restoring the airflow to his oxygen mask to mitigate the sense of suffocation he was experiencing and failed to recover from ununsual attitude using the appropriate corrective actions.

While trying to activate the emergency oxygen system he didn’t notice he had rolled the plane inverted and put it in a supersonic steep dive that led to a controlled flight into terrain.

Nevertheless, although the report ruled out the possibility that the accident was caused by the OBOGS, it appears somehow debateable that a mishap starting with a malfunction in the system that brings the air to various systems (including the OBOGS)  has nothing to do with several previous F-22 in-flight emergencies by pilots experiencing lack of oxygen.

Image source: US Air Force

Provided that we can consider the F-22 a controlled flight into terrain only caused by a pilot error, both the Strike Eagle in Libya and the Raptor in Alaska crashed because of the so-called human factor.

Even if experience, technology, training and simulators have improved the safety standards, military aviation is still subject to pilot errors because of the type of flying. High speed planes maneuvering close one another in a hostile environment are likely more subject to risk of human error than an airline pilot.

Some believe the extensive use of drones will reduce error occurrences because, by eliminating the stress caused by flying on a conventional asset, drone’s pilot will be able to apply the right emergency procedure at the right time. However, if you look at the AIB reports page for FY11 or FY10, you’ll notice that many documents deal with drone mishaps and that the vast majority blame pilot errors as the root cause of the accidents.

“Pilot’s improper control of aircraft airspeed and  AOA  that caused  the aircraft to enter a stall and spin” (Link 1); “pilot failed to correctly execute the procedure to turn on the aircraft’s Stability Augmentation System” (Link 2); “pilot deviating from check list procedures” (Link 3); “failure of the student pilot and instructor pilot to recognize that the  aircraft’s speed was too low for the weather conditions” (Link 4); “pilot error caused primarily by mishap pilot2’s channelized attention away from flying the mishap RPA and an inattention to the high terrain in the MRPA’s immediate vicinity. Furthermore, inattention by both MP1 and MP2 resulted from a perceived absence of threat from the environment” (Link 5); “Loss of aircraft control due to mishap pilot failure to apply stall recovery procedure” (Link 6).

So, the fact that pilots of robots operate inside a ground control station without risking their own life does not reduce the risk of losing the drone because of a human error.

According to a U.S. today report about 30 percent of airmen who control attack robots have been experiencing emotional stress caused from long hours of work.

Looks like pilots and operators who manage U.S. drones working for 50 – 60 hours per week, with an amount of tasks that has quadrupled from 2007 to 2011, complain “of frequent shift changes, “mind-numbing” monotony, strains on families and ever-increasing workloads” to such an extent that there are many on the edge of mental illnesses.

Actually, as reported in the above mentioned article, Lt. Gen. Larry James, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence,
ruled out the possibility that any of the pilot errors identified as root cause of drone accident were tied to emotional stress.

At least, “in contrast to the job exhaustion rates, researchers found very low levels of post-traumatic stress disorder” the article explains, without forgetting the main difference between an airplane pilot and a drone one: convetional pilots risk their own life each time they make an error.

Now I would be curious to know if pilot’s error, stress, technical failure, or Iran’s Electronic Warfare capabilities caused the recent capture of the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone and the Reaper crash at the Seychelles.