Tag Archives: Rafale

Operation Odyssey Dawn explained (Day 2)

In a few words Day 1 of Operation Odyssey Dawn saw the Build-up, the French “show of force”, and the evening TLAM attack. More information can be found in my first debriefing that explains in details what happened (and why). In the meanwhile new details about the first hours of air war surfaced bringing some interesting analysis.

First of all the initially denied involvement of 3 B-2 bombers was confirmed. As happened during Operation Allied Force in 1999, the stealth bombers operated directly from Whiteman AFB, Missouri with the support of many tankers along the route.

They dropped 40 conventional bombs on an unspecified airbase and, interestingly, to render them much more invisible, even to HF, VHF and UHF listeners that have been exploiting the possibility to listen to radio communications in the clear broadcasted by LiveATC.net, the B-2 used a REACH callsign, usually allocated to tanker, transport and support aircraft.

This gives an idea of how the OPSEC problem was faced by the USAF: keeping in mind that aircraft spotters around the world, virtually interconnected by means of forums, websites, messageboards, Twitter, Facebook and any other social networking tool, are today capable of tracking aircraft movements even before aircraft depart their homebases with the various LiveATC.net, Flightradar24.com, ADS-B, etc., they decided to deceive them not using difficult and “suspect” zip-lip ops (no-radio) but masking aircraft callsigns.

The result was satisfactory as the strikes of the B-2s as well as the TLAM attack were almost unexpected in spite of the technology in the hands of the aircraft enthusiasts meaning that there are still ways to achieve strategical surprise, if needed…..Indeed, very often, Politicians or Military Commands are more than willing to spread the news of active involvement in the air operations or the successful accomplishment of the missions as the news of the aircraft “overflying Libya now” given by the French and Tweets that followed the TLAM attack on Day 1 showed.

Furthermore, the above mentioned social networks tools are today used by media and news agencies that have been providing live and comprehensive coverage of the operations, with actual departure and landing times of each mission, number of involved aircraft, deployment bases and so on.

As never before, online newspapers and TV, using either Twitter feeds or information gathered on the field or by “googling”, are providing interesting details about the missions flown during this starting phase of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

During Day 2 the Force the main highlights were:

1) There were not collateral damages (civil victims) of the allied strike meaning not only that the attacks were “surgical” but that the accuracy of the weapon systems employed is extremely high so as the Rules Of Engagement. For instance there are reports that the RAF planes that operated in the evening of Day 2 did not use their ordnace because there were civilians in the vicinity of the designated targets.

2) The beginning of a direct US tacair (short for tactical aviation, i.e. jet fighters) involvement in the campaign: multiple waves of F-16s (52FW), F-15Es (48FW), EA-18Gs (VAQ-132) and AV-8Bs (USMC, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit USS Kearsarge) striked a variety of ground targets shortly after the Libyan Defence and Communication network had suffered the massive cruise missiles attack. More are going to be performed in the next days even if, in the mid-terms, they will become reconnaissance/patrol missions rather than attack ones.

3) PSYOPS undertaken by an EC-130J of the 193SOW (Special Operations Wing) deployed to Sigonella to persuade some Libyans from boarding a ship (in both English and Arab language) as the following audio file show: http://audioboo.fm/boos/307814 . As already explained in this blog the EC-130J Commando Solo belong to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. The EC-130J is a particular version of the EC-130 that is used for psychological operations and is capable of broadcasting TV and radio messages on all bands.

4) The first involvement of Danish and Italian contingents in the campaign. The RDAF F-16s based in Sigonella flew their first mission around 14.00Z striking targets in Misratah according to news agencies (4 were involved in a complex 5hrs mission, Danish sources reported), while a total of 6 Italian Tornados (4 ECRs and 2 IDS performing buddy air-to-air refueling) took off from Trapani at 19.00Z for a typical SEAD strike. This was the first active involvement of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) in Odyssey Dawn to which Italy contributes with 4 Tornado ECRs, 4 Eurofighter F-2000 Typhoon, 7 airbases and 5.000 military. The Tornado IDS deployed from Ghedi to Trapani should perform support missions (AAR) and that’s the reason why they are not considered in the grand total of ItAF planes joining ops. According to Italian Navy chief of naval ops the 8 Italian AV-8B+ Harriers on board Garibaldi aircraft carrier could operate along with USMC Harriers if needed.

5) BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) was performed also by US Global Hawks permanently based in Sigonella.

6) Build up continues: 4 Mirage 2000-5 of the Qatar Emiri Air Force took part in the operations of Day 2 (according to the French MoD even if other French sources said the Qatari are going to join the operations in the near future with 8 aircraft) while a certain number of UAE F-16s could be shortly deployed to Decimomannu (even if some sources say Trapani). There were no news about the actual involvement of the Spanish ALA12 EF-18s based in Decimomannu (even if it can’t be ruled out). A certain number of Tornado GR4s (that during Day 2 operated again from UK) and Typhoons (should be 10 in total) have deployed to Gioia del Colle, the same airbase that hosted the British Harrier GR7s, Jaguars and Tornado F3 for the Balkans Ops (Deny Flight, Sharp Guard, Deliberate Force, Deliberate Forge, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, etc.). The Norwegian Air Force was ordered on Saturday night to have 6 F16s and over 100 pilots and other personnel ready for military operations in Libya. It is not clear yet when and where the NoAF fighters will deploy. US could deploy some F-22s to the area even if this is just a rumour. French activity today went almost unnoticed with 15 aircraft performing strikes and returning to their bases without problems. Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier was dispatched to the area of operations and it should embark an air group consisting of 8 Rafale Ms, 6 Super Etendards, 2 E-2C Hawkeyes, 2 Dauphins and 1 Alouette (source: ACIG.org).

Operation Odyssey Dawn explained (Day 1)

On Mar. 19, 2011, incidentally exactly 8 years since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a medium scale operation to protect Libyan people from attacks of forces loyal to Gaddafi in accordance with resolution 1973 of the Security Council of the United Nations, dubbed “Odyssey Dawn”, began, involving the forces of a coalition of the willing made by US, France, UK, Italy and Canada (according to the Pentagon, even if the actual and active participation of the Canadians and Italians in the first stages of the war in Libya has yet to be confirmed).

The entire operation developed into at least three phases:

1) build up phase (still in progress): the one usually preceding the beginning of the air operations, during which the various assets, belonging to the contributing nations, reach the forward operating bases. For instance, the Canadian Air Force deployed 6 CF-18 of the 425 Squadron of 3 Wing from Bagotville to Trapani via Prestwick, the USAFE (United States Air Force in Europe) moved some 10 F-15E of the 494FS and 12 F-16s of the 480FS to Aviano, the RDAF (Royal Danish Air Force) deployed 6 F-16s to Sigonella, the Spanish Air Force sent 4 EF-18 and 1 B707 to Decimomannu and so on. Even Italy relocated some of its assets in proximity of the area of operations: along with 4 Tornado ECRs of the 155° Gruppo based in Piacenza, an unspecified number of Tornado IDSs of the 6° Stormo of Ghedi and some Typhoons of the Grosseto-based 4° Stormo were deployed to Trapani, home of the F-16s of the 37° Stormo. The build up will continue in the following days, as new countries will join the coalition of the willing and will find a place on one of the 7 Italian bases rendered available by Italy (Aviano, Gioia del Colle, Trapani, Amendola, Sigonella, Decimomannu and Pantelleria) or by other countries like Greece, Spain or Cyprus.

2) operation Harmattan: in the early afternoon of Mar. 19, by order of the President Sarkozy, the French Chief of Defence Staff launched “Operation Harmattan”, name of the French participation to the Odyssey Dawn. Beginning at 12.30Z French aircraft flew into Libya to provide air defense missions to enforce the no-fly zone in the region of Benghazi (radius 150 km from the town) and to strike those military targets identified on the ground that could threaten the civilian population. 20 aircraft were involved in the first raid (8 Rafale, 2 Mirage 2000-5, 2 Mirage 2000 D, 6 C-135 tanker and 1 E3F AWACS images by Sirpa Air French Air Force and below chart made by http://rafalenews.blogspot.com/) and two frigates and anti-aircraft air defense (the Jean Bart and Forbin) positioned off Libya. Even though the press release later affirmed that “these French military forces were engaged in close coordination with our allies the time that the multinational coalition into place” some online newspapers reported that France’s first strike in Libya somehow angered some of the countries gathered at the afternoon Paris summit meeting. In fact, it is at least weird that the French Air Force decided to attack Gaddafi’s forces around Benghazi without support from partners. For sure the French intervention (claiming 4 Libyan tanks destroyed) stopped (or at least helped to stop) the loyalists forces’ advance to Benghazi but many saw this action as an attempt by President Sarkozy, that was criticised in the past for being too cautious, to give France a leading role in the North Africa crisis; others saw the warmongering behaviour as also a means to raise the profile of the Rafale by giving it visibility as a combat proven weapon system….
For sure the solitary attack made by the French contingent was at least unusual/unexpected, especially since French Air Force lacks some specialties (or, let’s say, has not in its inventory the proper kind of aircraft even if Rafale can on the paper somehow fulfil the tasks) and it’s not capable of autonomously performing those missions that are usually required at the beginning of a campaign, like SEAD and accompanying active kinetic EW. Usually, an air campaign starts with (cruise missiles) strikes aimed at the enemy Air Defence and Communication network, to give aicraft that will provide air superiority and will have to enforce the NFZ an airspace cleared of SAM launchers and radars. On the other side it must be noted that, according to the most informed sources, any SAM sites in the Benghazi area are not believed to be operational and, MANPADs aside, real threats to the French fighters were extremely limited in that area. For this reason, without much trouble a French attack plane (Mirage 2000D or Rafale) fired the first shot of Operation Odyssey Dawn at 14.45Z (using either a GBU-12 laser guided bomb or a AASM air-to-ground guided weapon). Some guessed the French were sent to Benghazi to invite Libyans to turn on their SAM site’s radars, unveiling their actual location for later targeting. Although possible, it sounds to me a bit risky considering also that a lot of SIGINT platform have been operating in the Libyan airspace with the specific task of gathering as much information as possible on the current status of the Libyan air defence network.
The fighters took off from Solenzara, Corse, while the supporting planes departed from Istres. Someone has speculated the attack could have originated from N’Djamena, Chad, where French Mirage F1 and 2000 have been operating since the early ’80s. However this option should be ruled out because of the distance and because the aircraft deployed there should be Mirage 2000 RDI. Libyan State TV claimed a FAF aircraft was shot down, but the news was denied by the French authorities.

3) the final part of the first stage of Operation Odyssey Dawn was a massive Tomahawk attack performed by US Navy warships and four submarines (three US and a British Trafalgar class one) around 19.30Z. More than 110 cruise missiles were launched by the Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyers USS Stout (DDG 55) and USS Barry (DDG 52) and submarines USS Providence (SSN 719), USS Scranton (SSN 756) and USS Florida (SSGN 728) participated in the strike. The TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles) were used to attack 20 targets of the Libyan air defense, surface-to-air missile sites and communication nodes. Following the wave of cruise missiles, the RAF launched Storm Shadow missiles from Tornado GR4 which flew direct from RAF Marham and back making the 3.000 miles trip, this the longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict. The operation was supported by VC10 and Tristar air-to-air refuelling aircraft as well as E-3D Sentry and Sentinel surveillance aircraft.

Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, Le Bourget, Paris

Located mid way between downtown Paris and Charles De Gaulle-Roissy airport, the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace Paris (Air and Space Museum), in the south eastern part of Le Bourget airport, is a must for any aviation enthusiast. The Museum stretches on 150,000 square meters of aprons and hangars and contains a collection of some 180 aircraft: from 16th century items tied to the Montgolfier brothers, to the parts of the Zeppelin LZ113, from biplanes of the beginning of the 20th century, to the ballistic missiles or the legendary Vietnam War veteran Republic F-105 Thunderchief “Thud”. The Museum’s collections are organized in different areas or collection halls, each representing a different period or theme.
Admittance is free, but you have to pay a ticket if you want to make a tour inside an Air France B747-128 (F-BPVJ, performing last commercial flight Beirut-Paris on Feb. 10, 2000), in an American DC-3 or in the two Concorde planes that you can find in the Concorde hall of the Museum (that, to me, alone, were worth the visit): the prototype 001 “F-WTSS”, that made its maiden flight on Mar. 2, 1969, piloted by André Turcat and Jacques Guignard and was retired from service after 397 test flights and 812 flight hours (255 supersonic ones); and the Concorde F-BTSD Sierra Delta, one of the last of such type to fly with Air France, that was retired to the Museum on Jun. 14, 2003, 13 days before the last flight of the Fox Charlie (F-BVFC) the last Air France Concorde that landed in Toulouse on Jun. 27, 2003. The two aircraft are parked side-by-side so you can easily esteem the different internal and external layouts. The F-WTSS prototype wears the “Eclipse Solaire 1973” badge that recalls the historic solar eclipse of Jun. 30, 1973, an event that seven scientists were able to follow for 74 minutes from inside a Concorde fitted as a flying laboratory that, taking off from Las Palmas, Canaries, for the special flight flew within the dark area at supersonic speed at 17.000 meters above Mauritania, before landing in Fort-Lamy (N’Djamena), Chad.
Other interesting aircraft are the German F-104G Starfighter, the Mirage IV, the DC-8 SARIGUE “F-RAFE” used for electronic warfare, the Dassault Super Etendard Modernisé SEM 64, the SAAB J-35A Draken, the Russian Mig-23ML “26” and all the prototypes displayed: the Super Mirage 4000, the Rafale A, the Griffon II and III,
the Mirage III V-01, the LEDUC 010 and the Mirage G8-01. Anyway, the collection is huge and there are so many interesting examples that I suggest you having a look at the following site for a complete list: http://www.aviationmuseum.eu/World/Europe/France/Paris-Le_Bourget/Musee_de_l_air.htm (beware, serials/codes are not correctly aligned with the aircraft type!).
I organized my trip to the museum during Aéropuces 2010, an annual event (hosted in the Concorde hall, as the pictures show) for buying, selling, trading aviation items: models, books, magazines, patches, aviation art, military and civil aircraft parts (control sticks, ejection seats, rudders, panels, cockpit instruments, blades, etc.), flight gear, and everything you might be interesting in collecting.
For more details about the collection, the Museum and the related events, I suggest you visiting the official Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace Paris website that cointains plenty of information (in French language only!).

The pictures above were taken by both me and Giovanni Maduli.

The M-346 Master for UAE

On Feb 25, during IDEX 2009 (International Defence Exhibition Conference) in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates Government announced the acquisition of 48 M-346 “Master” advanced lead-in fighter trainer.

The agreement includes the creation of a joint venture in the UAE between Alenia Aermacchi and the Mubadala Development Company for the establishment of a final assembly line for the M-346 as the result of close collaboration between the Italian Government and the defence industry, which have worked together to capitalise on Italian excellence in the aeronautics high-tech sector.

Alenia Aeronautica’s CEO Giovanni Bertolone commented: “The selection of the M-346, one of the Italian aeronautical technology’s flagship, of our subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi, by the United Arab Emirates Air Force – one of the most qualified in the world – represents a fundamental success that strengthens the presence of Finmeccanica’s proprietary aeronautical products in the international scenario. I wish to underline the role played by the Italian Air Force, starting from the definition of the requirements which have led to the M-346 project”.

The M-346 “Master”, of the Italian Alenia, a Finmeccanica Group company, is the only new generation advanced lead-in fighter trainer currently under development in Europe. The twin engine M-346 was created to train pilots in such a way to prepare them to fly future combat aircraft. The aircraft, can be employed in both advanced and pre-operational training, reducing the need flown on more expensive front-line aircraft. In order to optimise training effectiveness and operating costs, the M-346 embodies the latest concepts of “design-to-cost”, supportability and production optimisation, with an high level of performances and a human-machine interface representative of new generation combat aircraft such as the European Eurofighter, the Rafale, the Gripen and the American F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. With the support of the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo), the Evaluation and Testing unit of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), in Jan 2008, the second M-346 prototype successfully completed the air-to-air refueling from a Tornado equipped with a refueling pod in a typical buddy-buddy AAR mission.

In April 2007 the M-346 undertook an initial three-week assessment by the RSV at Pratica di Mare, obtaining higher appreciation by the Italian Air Force Pilots. The industrial base line M-346 (LRIP00) was rolled out at the beginning of April 2008 and made its official first flight in December 2008. In the same month, the first prototype of M-346 performed its first supersonic flight, reaching Mach 1.15 in the ‘Supersonic corridor’ off the Italian Riviera coast. That was the first time in 52 years than an aircraft designed and built entirely in Italy broke the sound barrier.

The first Italian aircraft to fly faster than sound was the Aerfer Sagittario II piloted by Lt.Col. Giovanni Franchini of the RSV which on Dec 4, 1956 achieved Mach 1.1 at the end of a dive at Pratica di Mare.

The design effort for the baseline industrial configuration aircraft has concentrated on structural optimisation, with additional benefits in terms of improved maintenance. The goal has been achieved by rationalizing the distribution of wing spars and fuselage frames, together with a more widespread use of composite and titanium parts. The integration of the new main landing gear (different from the previous AM-X one) and the standardization of general mission systems, has brought a considerable reduction in the empty weight, in the order of about 700 kilograms. The M-346 features innovative design solutions. Vortex lift aerodynamics, along with the full authority quadruplex Fly-by-Wire control system, allow the aircraft to remain fully controllable at angles of attack over 35° degrees. With this technological achievement, Alenia confirms it can autonomously design and manufacture advanced aircraft with Fly-by-Wire controls. The M-346 also integrates digital avionics with the ability to simulate sensors and threats in flight.

Dealing with the internationalization of the M-346 programme, Alenia Aermacchi recently signed an important agreement with Boeing, through the Support Systems Division of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. The two companies will cooperate on marketing, sales, training and product support activities in international markets for the M-346 next-generation Advanced and Lead-in Fighter Trainer and the M-311 basic-advanced trainer, both designed and manufactured by Alenia Aermacchi.
In addition to the Italian Air Force – which has expressed interest in acquiring 15 M-346 trainers and should sign the contract soon – interesting opportunities exist on leading markets such as Singapore (where the M-346 is included in “Short List”), Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Ecuador, Qatar, Greece and Chile.

The following images, courtesy of Alenia Aeronautica press office.

French Navy Rafales grounded by a computer virus

French Navy (Marine Nationale) has recently admitted that the Conficker worm struck some important systems preventing operative units to download their flight plans as databases were infected. Even if warnings about the risk of being attacked by the virus had been issued in October 2008, the French military authorities did not install the required security patches on their Windows systems, issued by Microsoft on Oct. 15, 2008. Conficker targets the Microsoft Windows operating system and exploits a known vulnerability in the Windows Server service used by Windows 2000, WinXP, Vista, Windows Server 2K3 and Windows Server 2K8. When executed, the worm disables some system services (as the Win Update, the Security Center and the Personal Firewall), then connects to a server to download other malware, to gather information stored in the computer or to propagate to another target. According to the information released by the French military, the proliferation of the worm caused the loss of Availability but did not cause loss of data Integrity or Confidentiality. As a consequence of Conficker proliferation, the Marine Nationale had to cut the communication links and to use telephone, fax and post to communicate. A USB drive is suspected to be the media used by Conficker to enter the French internal networks. French officials believe it was not a deliberate attack and affirm that the most sensitive network, named Sicmar, was not affected by the worm that attacked only non-secured internal networks. Among them, the Intramar French Navy network, that was immediately isolated. However a certain number of computers were infected and on Jan 15 and 16, Navy’s Rafale could not depart since they were not able to download their flight plans. The French newspapers stressed that the Marine Nationale was not the only one to be hit by the virus: at the beginning of January 2009, the British Defence Ministry was atteacked by a version of the virus that infected some 24 RAF bases and 75% of the Royal Navy fleet, Ark Royal aircraft carrier comprised! Information Security is a driver of flight operations (and improves Aviation Safety).

French Navy picture

© Marine Nationale