Tag Archives: NATO

Spike in Russian Air Force activity in Europe may be a reaction to large US Strategic Command bombers exercise

Usually, after every Global Thunder, the Russians launch similar long range bomber missions.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. Strategic Command concluded its largest yearly exercise. On the very same day, the Russian Air Force launched three packages which included of a mix of bombers and escort fighters for a total of 19 warplanes (26 if we consider also the close encounter on Oct. 28): a surge in missions flown close to European airspaces that NATO defined “unusual.

A mere coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Exercise Global Thunder 15 (first exercise for FY 2015, hence the 15) “is a command and control exercise designed to train Department of Defense forces and assess joint operational readiness across all of USSTRATCOM’s mission areas with a specific focus on nuclear readiness.”

Conducted in coordination with North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command’s Exercise Vigilant Shield 15 (attended by tactical warplanes with the aim to train homeland defense forces), Global Thunder 15 is a realistic exercise during which nearly every USSTRATCOM component, task force, unit, command post and bomb wing takes part in the training events which are aimed at improving all the Command capabilities: space, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, global strike, and ballistic missile defense.

On a 24-hour period, yearly Global Thunders foresee intense B-52 and B-2s perform their MITO departures and going up to the Arctic and back, controlled by several E-6B Mercury aircraft.

Some strategic bombers route up over Nova Scotia and up past Thule/Greenland and either go all the way around North of Canada and back down through Canada/Alaska or they turn round and go back the way they came. Other waves go up over Alaska first and come back down viceversa.

A one-day simulated nuclear war.

Richard Cliff, a reader of The Aviationist and military aviation expert noticed that, usually after every Global Thunder, the Russians seem to launch similar long-range bomber missions, as those that caused the alert scrambles by NATO QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) cells across Europe.

Therefore, Global Strike proves Russian bombers are not the only ones to fly in the Arctic or perform simulated long-range nuclear missions. At the same time, the exercise may be one of the reasons behind the spike in the Russian activities in Europe (even though we can’t but notice that the amount of close encounters has increased in the last couple of years regardless to whether there was a US Strategic Command in the same period or not).

Global Thunder 15

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

NATO worried by an “unusual level of Russian air activity over European airspace”: 19 warplanes intercepted today

Russian air activity across Europe is surging: three more formations intercepted today.

As reported yesterday, on Oct. 28, the German Air Force Eurofighter jets on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) to provide NATO Baltic Air Policing were scrambled to intercept 2x MiG-31 Foxhound, 2x Su-34 Fullback, 1x Su-27 Flanker and 2x Su-24 Fencer jets over the Baltic Sea.

The following day, Oct. 29, three large packages of Russian planes skirting NATO “airspace” were detected and monitored by aircraft on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) in both northern Europe and Turkey.

“These sizable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace,” said NATO in an official statement.

At approximately 3:00 a.m. CET NATO radars detected and tracked eight Russian aircraft flying in formation over the North Sea, in international airspace.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force scrambled its F-16s in QRA that intercepted and identified the Russian aircraft as four Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircraft.

In what can be seen as a “show of force”, two of the Russian strategic bombers flew parallel to the Norwegian coast, heading to the south-west and were intercepted by Eurofighter Typhoon jets scrambled by the Royal Air Force (whereas the remaining 6 Russian Air Force planes returned towards Russia).

West of Portugal the two Bears were intercepted by F-16s from the Portuguese Air Force.

According to NATO, “The bomber and tanker aircraft from Russia did not file flight plans or maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control authorities and they were not using on-board transponders. This poses a potential risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.”

Later on the same day, whilst the Tu-95 returned towards Russia, NATO radars detected and tracked four Russian aircraft flying over the Black Sea in international air space: 2 Tu-95 Bear-H bombers and 2 Su-27 Flanker fighter jets.

Turkish Air Force F-16s were scrambled and intercepted the Russian aircraft in international airspace.

During the afternoon of Oct. 29 October, NATO radars detected and tracked 7 Russian planes over the Baltics (needless to say, in international airspace): 2x MiG-31 Foxhound, 2x Su-34 Fullback, 1x Su-27 Flanker and 2x Su-24 Fencer jets (these were probably the very same aircraft intercepted on Oct. 28).

Portuguese F-16 Fighters assigned to the Baltic Air Policing Mission were scrambled from Šiauliai, Lithuania. It’s unclear whether they reached the package or not; anyway, the Russian Air Force planes returned to Russia’s airspace.
Image credit: UK MoD / Crown Copyright

NATO jets, including Canadian Hornets, scrambled twice in two days to intercept Russian spyplane

NATO QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) jets scrambled twice in two days to intercept Russian military aircraft

The Il-20 is the most frequent Russian Air Force aircraft intercepted by NATO fighter jets in the Baltics.

Noteworthy, as the Swedish Air Force is hunting the foreign submarine in the Stockholm archipelago, the spyplane has been intercepted twice in two days, over the Baltics.

According to the Latvian military on Oct. 20, a Russian Il-20 was intercepted by Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188s scrambled from Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania. Then, on the following day, Portuguese AF F-16s, also deployed to Siauliai airbase for NATO Baltic Air Policing mission were scrambled to intercept and shadow an Il-20 Coot intelligence gathering aircraft.

Russian Air Force Il-20s regularly fly in the Scandinavian region causing alert scrambles by NATO planes providing QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) for the Baltic Air Policing mission. On Mar. 3, 2014 one the Russian ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) planes almost collided with SAS Boeing 737 with 132 people on board southwest of Malmö, Sweden.

Image credit: RCAF

 

[Photo] Armed Czech JAS-39 Gripen jets deploy to Iceland for NATO Air Policing Mission

Here are the first photos of the Czech Air Force JAS-39 Gripen fighter planes deploying to Iceland to undertake Icelandic Air Policing duty.

The Czech Air Force has deployed five of its JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft and a total of 80 aircrew and ground personnel from 21st Tactical Air Force Base Čáslav to Iceland.

Their ferry flight to Keflavik was supported by an Italian Air Force KC-767A tanker from the 14° Stormo (Wing) based at Pratica di Mare.

Gripen formation

The Gripens mission is to provide Airborne Surveillance and Interception Capabilities to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs (ASICIPPN) on behalf of NATO.

Noteworthy, the aircraft deployed to Iceland carrying live AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

Gripen landing

Image credit: Eggert Norðdahl

 

U.S. airborne communication plane could be tracked on the Web for 9 hours during air strike that killed Taliban leaders in Afghanistan

At least seven Taliban militants were killed following a NATO air raid Afghanistan. Noteworthy, a sign of the developing operation may have been a U.S. Air Force E-11A BACN plane orbiting over southeasern Ghazni province, clearly visible on Flightradar24.com.

Although many military aircraft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders they are usually turned off during real war operations. In fact, by automatically broadcasting the plane’s callsign, GPS position, speed and altitude, these special transponders provide information about the plane can be received by ground stations, by other nearby aircraft (thus enhancing situational awareness) and also by commercial off-the-shelf or home-built receivers.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder have a network of several hundred feeders around the world who make the flight information received by their home kits available for anybody on their websites, or by means of their smartphone apps.

Even though some pilots have confirmed they are well aware of the above mentioned websites and for this reason are instructed to turn off their transponders when involved in real operation, during the opening stages of the Libya Air War, 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.

Three years later, a U.S. plane involved in war mission over Afghanistan could be monitored for several hours as it circled at 41,000 feet to the southeast of Ghazni.

The aircraft did not broadcast its mission callsign, but based on the hex code FR24 could identify it as a Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.

Within the U.S. Air Force, the modified jet is designated E-11A.

BACN is technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to exchange tactical information and communicate.

By orbiting at high-altitude, BACN equipped air assets provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky regardless of the type of the supporting aircraft and in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment. In the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead and moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal. In such situation, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from the battlefield while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces Joint Terminal Air Controller (JTAC) on the ground until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

The BACN system is also deployed onboard EQ-4B Global Hawk UAVs.

Anyway, the E-11A could be tracked on FR24.com for about 9 hours, from 21.54 UTC on Aug. 10 to 06.45 UTC on Aug. 11, when the aircraft got out of the flightradar24 coverage while returning back to Kandahar airfield (?). At the same time a NATO air strike in the same zone killed seven Taliban and wounded four.

Next time NATO is preparing a similar operation, the presence of the orbiting E-11A could expose and jeopardize the imminent air strike.

H/T to Jerod Harris for the heads-up.

Image credit: screenshot form flightradar24.com