Tag Archives: Operation Inherent Resolve

Images Emerge Of U.S. KC-135 Conducting First Aerial Refueling Of Iraqi Air Force F-16IQ Block 52 Jets Over Iraq

The Iraqi F-16IQ Block 52 aircraft were refueled from a Stratotanker over Iraq for the first time.

On Aug. 15, 2018, Iraqi Air Force F-16C and D, were refueled mid-air by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq: according to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs, this was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace.

The images released by CENTCOM show the two aircraft during the AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations. Interestingly, whilst the F-16D appears to be unarmed, the F-16IQ Block 52 appears to carry the standard loadout for the anti-Daesh air strikes shown by the aircraft taking off for their mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve from their homebase at Balad Air Base: four 500-lb GBU-12 LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and four AIM-9L/M Sidewinder IR-guided AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles), along with a Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod).

The fact that the weapons sport yellow stripes means the bombs and missiles carried by the single seaters are not inert but “live” suggesting it was involved in a combat mission rather than a training one.

Anyway, the first aerial refueling from a KC-135 over Iraq marks IAF’s growing capabilities with the new aircraft.

An Iraqi Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon performs an aerial maneuver after receiving in-flight fuel training from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq, Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Iraqi Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the Iraqi Armed Forces, responsible for policing international borders and conducting surveillance of its national assets.(U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

The first of 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52 jets destined to the Iraqi Air Force, a two-seater D model serial number 1601, made its first flight from Fort Worth, Texas, on May 2, 2014. The aircraft, officially delivered to the IAF on Jun. 5, 2014, sported the brand new, exotic two-tone grey camo that has become standard on the Iraqi Vipers while being much different from the desert color scheme used by the Iraqi planes prior to the 2003 invasion which destroyed what remained of the Al Quwwa al Jawwiya al Iraqiya, and the light grey paint that was used on the Hellfire-equipped Cessna 208Bs or the Mil Mi-25 gunships.

The first four F-16IQ Block 52 jets were delivered to Tucson, Arizona:  the initial plan was to fly the aircraft to Iraq but the F-16IQ jets remained in the U.S. until air bases were readied for the new planes and, above all, secured by the Islamic State’s invasion. The first aircraft (two C and two D jets) landed at Balad air base in Iraq on July 13, 2015, where they joined the new 9th Fighter Squadron.

The subsequent deliveries grew the fleet until the IAF could count on 18-20 aircraft to be used in the air war on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The baptmism of fire occurred on Sept. 6, 2015.

Two Iraqi F-16s were lost since the first delivery: the first one was on Jun. 24, 2015, the second one on Sept. 5, 2017. In both cases, the pilots died in the accident.

A Iraqi Air Force F-16D Fighting Falcon approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) for in-flight refuel training over Iraq on Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team in partnership with the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, provides training, advising and assistance in addition to building partner capacity for Iraqi Army Aviation Command, Iraqi Air Defense Command and the Iraqi Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

Top: U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman

Here Are The First Photographs Of U.S. Air Force C-17 and Marine Corps KC-130J Operating From New U.S. Airfield in Northern Syria

U.S. Air Forces Central Command has just released some photographs from an “undisclosed location”: geolocation proves they are the first from a recently-built airbase in northern Syria.

CENTCOM has just published some interesting photographs of U.S. assets supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. In particular, the images depict U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J operating from an austere runway at what the official captions refer to as an “undisclosed location”.

Here is one of those images:

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130 Hercules departs from an undisclosed location, June 22, 2018. The C-130 transported personnel and supplies to another location in the area of operations in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). In conjunction with partner forces, CJTF-OIR’s mission is to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and set conditions to increase regional stability. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

However, the new images, taken between Jun. 20 and 23, 2018 and released by CENTCOM Public Affairs earlier today, were immediately geolocated by the OSINT investigator and famous Twitter user Samir (@obretix).

Therefore, those you can find in this post are, to our knowledge, the very first photographs showing operations at a new U.S./Coalition military base in Syria’s northeastern province of Al-Hasakah whose construction works were exposed by OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analysis of satellite pictures in 2017 and completion appeared to be imminent or just finished at the end of April 2018:

 

Another U.S. airfield is located in northern Syria: Sarrin. The base was built in 2016 and the first aircraft appeared to operate from there in July 2017. Here below you can find a tweet with some recent images from there:

Noteworthy, the images released today of the operations at the new airfield in Syria show an interesting KC-130J. This airframe (serial 167110), whose main role is to act as an aerial refueler, has a pretty career: back in 2010, the aircraft deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was fitted with what was been dubbed the Harvest Hawk weapons system. Along with the traditional air-to-air refueling, and cargo and troop transportation tasks, the KC-130J from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California carried out several Close Air Support missions earning many mission markings firing AGM-114K and Griffin missiles.

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130J Hercules flies over an undisclosed location after departure, June 22, 2018. The C-130 was transporting personnel and supplies to another location in Combined Joint Task Force’s area of operations. The KC-130J Hercules supports expeditionary operations by providing air-to-air refueling, rapid ground refueling and logistic support to operating forces. Tactical transportation of personnel or cargo includes aerial delivery or austere landing zone operations. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

H/T @obretix for the help in writing this article

EQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Deployed to UAE with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Payload Reaches 20K Flight Hours

One of the RQ-4B Global Hawk drone converted into EQ-4 has logged 20,000 flight hours operating as a “flying gateway” for other aircraft involved in the air war on ISIS.

On Feb. 13, one of the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drones reached 20,000 flight hours. The UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is one of the three RQ-4Bs converted into EQ-4 and carry the BACN payload instead of the imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors: it’s primarily a data and communications bridging node that supports multiple bridges simultaneously across multiple radio types. The crews who operate these particular flying gateways call them: “Wi-fi in the sky.”

“This milestone was the original lifespan of the aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Pipes, Hawk Aircraft Maintenance Superintendent deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, in a public release. “It’s exciting to see where this technology and this aircraft can take off too and how it can help those who are downrange.”

The aircraft (based on the photo the example “A2019”, an RQ-4 Block 20 converted into EQ-4), reached this milestone at its deployment base of Al Dhafra, UAE, from where the Global Hawks equipped with a Battlefield Communications Airfield Node payload are regularly launched for missions that can last 24 hours, or more. For instance, the very same aircraft surpassed the 10,000 flying hours in March 2015 during a 30.5-hour mission.

“From being a manned aircraft pilot, getting 12-hours in the air was a long day…you needed a day or so to recover before going up on your next mission,” said Major Manuel Ochoa, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk pilot from the 99th Air Expeditionary Recon Squadron stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base. “When it comes to this plane, you can cycle pilots without having to land and that is a great benefit.”

Missions flown by the BACN platforms are extremely important. As explained several times here at The Aviationist, BACN is a technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to transfer information and communicate.

The U.S. military uses various datalink systems to exchange tactical information, and many are not capable of working together.  For example, a U.S. Air Force F-15 can use its Link-16 system to exchange target information with a U.S. Navy F/A-18.  However, the F/A-18 could not exchange information with a USAF B-52 or B-1 bomber.  The advanced F-22 can connect with other Raptors via datalink but can only receive over the standard, legacy Link-16 datalink used by most allied aircraft.

This lack of compatibility between different platforms is a major obstacle in all those theaters where air assets from many services are called upon to provide support for ground troops of different nations.  Additionally, the complicated joint operations required to engage a modern integrated air defense system are greatly simplified by exchanging target information via datalinks.

Hence the need for a “flying gateway” as the EQ-4s, all assigned to 380th Air Expeditionary Wing based at Al Dhafra Air Base to support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve).

An U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk logs over 20,000 flight hours Feb. 13, 2018 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

 

The BACN system is also used to link ground troops and Forward Air Controllers (FACs)/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment.  For instance, in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead.  Moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal in a combat situation.

E-11A aircraft (Bombardier Global 6000 advanced ultra long-range business jets that have been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload) with 430th Expeditionary Electronic Squadron deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan have been involved in this kind of missions (some of those trackable on the Internet as highlighted several times) since they arrived in theater for the first time 9 years ago.

By orbiting at high-altitude for long times, BACN equipped air assets can provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky.  For example, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from a battle area while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces FAC on the ground.  The A-10 pilot could wait until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that the original story refers to BACN as “Battlefield Communication Airfield Node”.

Here’s The Video Of The Syrian Su-22 Fitter Being Shot Down By A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet

F/A-18E Super Hornet vs Su-22 Fitter near Raqqa, as seen through the Hornet’s ATFLIR.

On Jun. 18, F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors” and piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Michael “Mob” Tremel,” shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter near the town of Resafa (40 km to the southwest of Raqqa, Syria).

The VFA-31 Tomcatters, also embarked on USS George Bush (CVN-77) supporting Operation Inherent Resolve from the Mediterranean Sea back then, have included footage of the aerial engagement, filmed with their ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra Red) pod, in their 2017 OIR cruise video.

Here below you can see the relevant part of the cruise video, the one that shows the AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) hitting the Syrian Sukhoi (from two different angles – maybe because other Hornets filmed the scene) and then the Fitter crashing into the ground.

 

Take A Seat In the Cockpit Of A U.S. B-52 Bomber As It Drops GBU-31 “Bunker Buster” Bombs On ISIS Targets In Mosul

Rare Insight Into The Operations Of The B-52s.

The venerable U.S. Air Force B-52 Buffs have been supporting the air war on ISIS since April 2016. They Stratofortress strategic bombers, based at Al Udeid, Qatar, launched their first air strike against a Daesh weapons storage facility in Iraq on Apr. 18, 2016.

As already highlighted in a previous article, the USAF B-52s have mainly flown Close Air Support and Air Interdiction mainly delivering two types of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions): the 500-lb laser-guided GBU-54s and the 2,000-lb GPS-guided GBU-31V3 “bunker busters” loaded onto the Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam pylons.

The typical loadout includes 3x GBU-31s and 8x GBU-54s along with PGMs carried inside the bomb bay of the B-52H Stratofortress. With the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade the Buffs can carry up to 16 external laser JDAMs (8 per pylon) as well as 8 internal J-series weapons mounted on a conventional rotary launcher: a mix of PGMs that gives the Buffs the ability to deliver attack both stationary and moving ground targets. In particular, the GBU-54s, that combines 500-lb Mk-82 warhead and the precision strike capability delivered by its dual Laser/GPS mode guidance system can be used against targets with reduced collateral damage.

For hardened targets or concrete shelters, the weapons of choice is the GBU-31s.The JDAM is a GPS aided inertially guided bomb. The Guidance and Control Unit (GCU) containing a HG1700 RLG, GEM-III GPS receiver and computer package is installed inside the bomb tailkit. The GCU is used on the bunker busting 2,000-lb class BLU-109/B forged steel penetrator warhead.

The GBU-31s are assembled at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, by airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron’s Munitions Flight. Considered that the base

The following video provides a really interesting point of view: it shows a high-altitude attack on a target in western Mosul (according to @obretix), as seen from the cockpit of a B-52 of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron on May 23, 2017. The detonation of the bombs as they hit the ground appears to be pretty huge.

H/T @obretix for the heads-up