According to Pentagon, “Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located.”
Then, the U.S. launched a second round of airstrikes, which involved an RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft), that struck a terrorist mortar position twice, and four Hornets which successfully struck a stationary ISIL convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position near Erbil.
The manned planes involved in the first airstrikes belong to the Carrier Air Wing 8 embarked on USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier.
Few days ago, photographer Rich Cooper, went aboard the carrier sailing in the Gulf where it took the images you can find in this post. These were the last taken before the CVW-8 launched the first airstrikes against ISIS.
Operating from USS George Bush are also some of U.S. Navy’s last EA-6Bs on their final cruise (the Prowler will be out of service at the end of this year.)
The root cause of the fire has been identified in excessive rubbing between the turbine blades and the cowling, a problem not endemic to the fleet, based on the inspections of the other F-35 engines; still something that must be closely monitored.
That’s why the return to flight is restricted: the F-35s can’t fly faster than Mach 0.9 and are limited to 18 degrees of angle of attack. The envelope is limited from -1 G to +3 Gs and, above all, after three hours of flight time, each front fan section of each engine has to be inspected with a borescope.
According to U.S. Defense officials, the one between a U.S. RC-135U and a Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker was something more than a routine intercept.
The RC-135U is one of the most secretive U.S. surveillance planes. It provides strategic electronic reconnaissance information, performing signal analysis by means of a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf and proprietary hardware and software, including the Automatic Electronic Emitter Locating System.
In short, the Combat Sent can simultaneously locate, identify, and analyze multiple electronic signals.
Only two such kind of RC-135 are operated by the 55th Wing from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska but they are usually deployed abroad to keep an eye where needed.
On Apr. 23, a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker.
According to the Pentagon, the first part of the interception was as standard: the Su-27 (most probably the leader of a flight of at least two Flankers) approached the RC-135U and positioned more or less abeam the “intruder”. Then, instead of breaking away after positive identification of the “zombie” without crossing the line of flight of the intercepted aircraft, the Su-27 crossed the route of the U.S. spyplane putting itself within 100 feet of the Combat Sent.
One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.
The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.
Anyway, Russian pilots have been involved in similar incidents during intercept missions during the years. Just two examples.
More than 24 months since the last hypoxia-like incident occurred, the U.S. Air Force has decided to equip its F-22s with a backup oxygen system.
The Raptor fleet will soon receive a brand new backup oxygen system as part of multiple contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin (worth 30 Million USD) DefenseNews reported.
F-22s belonging to the 3rd Wing from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, have already received the new system, that will be implemented by the rest of the radar-evading planes by the second quarter of year 2015.
Being automatic, the new system does not require pilot intervention; a big improvement from the previous one that had to be activated by the pilot, which might be quite difficult, if not impossible if the latter was experiencing hypoxia-like/oxygen deprivation symptoms.
Because of the mysterious problem that plagued the stealthy fleet to such an extent the radar-evading aircraft were grounded back in 2011 following a deadly incident involving an Alaska-based, the Pentagon initially grounded the F-22s, and then, after lifting the flight ban, it restricted Air Force Raptors to fly near a “proximate landing location” in order to give pilots the possibility to land quickly if their planes’ On Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) fail.
The installation of the new automatic backup oxygen system is not the only upgrade the U.S. Raptors will get in 2015: according to DefenseNews, along with advanced electronic warfare protection and improved ground threat geolocation, F-22s should also get the ability to carry AIM-120D and AIM-9X advanced missiles.
According to the roadmap just published, in the next 25 years Pentagon aims at fielding military unmanned systems that will be autonomous and able to perceive, analyzw, correlate and make decisions or react without human intervention.
An obvious move that, among all the other implications, will also reduce the amount of UAS (unmanned aerial system) mishaps, the majority of those are caused by the human factor.
DoD vision up to 2038 is quite clear: drones are the key for U.S. military. And will be even more in the future, when the U.S. will have to face several problems: Pressure for reductions in federal budgets; U.S. military rebalance; Nuclear Proliferation; Violent extremism at home and across the globe; Threats in the Cyberspace (as in land, sea or air and space); Enemy Unmanned Systems.
Noteworthy, the Pentagon has added a new domain to its battlefield: cyberspace.
Acknowledging the risk of drones being hacked or hijacked, the DoD envisages higher data rate cryptography, and open standards to enhance encryption of data links and protect communicated information.
In the future, drones will be increasingly used to fulfil different tasks, including those currently not assigned to unmanned systems: “Although currently prohibited by policy, future capabilities by unmanned systems could include casualty evacuation and care, human remains evacuation, and urban rescue. The unmanned vehicles are intended to mitigate risk to the maximum extent by reducing the requirement to operate manned vehicles when the weather, terrain, availability, and enemy pose an unsuitable level of risk.”
If the long term vision foresees squadrons of robots conduct different missions in the battlefield, there will be a point in the near future when manned and unmanned systems will have to team up. It’s what the report calls MUM-T [Manned-Unmanned System Teaming].
“A force of the smaller, more agile manned-unmanned systems of the near future will enable DoD to mobilize quickly to deter and defeat aggression by projecting power despite A2/AD challenges. MUM-T will provide the following key capabilities: Defeating explosive ground surface, sub-surface (tunnel), and sea hazards from greater standoff distances; Assuring mobility to support multiple points of entry; Enabling movement and maneuver for projecting offensive operations; Establishing and sustaining the shore lines of communications required to follow forces and logistics; Protecting austere combat outposts; Providing persistent surveillance to detect and neutralize threats and hazards within single- to triple-canopy and urban terrain.”