One Tornado and one Sentinel R1 provided valuable support to the flood relief operations across UK
Hi-tech equipment carried by two Royal Air Force aircraft was used in the last few days to provide detailed aerial imagery of the areas affected by the floods in the Thames Valley, UK.
A 31 Squadron Tornado GR4 from RAF Marham carrying the RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Air Pod for Tornado) gathered high-resolution imagery that was brought back to the base to be processed and assessed by RAF analysts before being passed to civilian authorities.
The optical imagery provided by the Tornado’s reconnaissance pod was complemented by the radar pictures taken by a Sentinel R1 aircraft operated by the 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron from RAF Waddington airbase, which was launched on Feb 13 following the Tornado’s sortie.
The Sentinel is a long-range ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform with extensive combat experience in Libya and Mali, equipped with an all-weather radar system and electro optical sensors that is capable to produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground: these images are then used to map the areas hit by the devastating flooding and assist in the identification of those at a higher risk of further flooding.
It happened during exercise Combat Hammer, a weapon system evaluation program sponsored by the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, in the Utah Test and Training Range, “the only location in the U.S. where the F-22s can employ SDBs at speeds and altitudes unique to the Raptor,” said Maj. Wade Bridges, a Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron.
The Alaska’s F-22s have received the software increment 3.1 that enables them to drop the 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets; equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range.
Among the Lessons Learned of the Air War in Libya, there was the need to employ SDBs to improve accuracy and reduce collateral damage.
The SDB is currently integrated on the F-15E Strike Eagle whereas all the remaining U.S. bombers (including the F-35) will get the GBU-39 in the future. The Italian and Israeli air forces have procured this kind of weapon as well.
Separation tests on the Raptor began in Sept. 2007.
The training event allowed for Total Force Integration across the F-22 fleet: pilots from both the 302nd and the 525th Fighter Squadrons and maintainers from the 3rd Maintenance Group and the 477th Fighter Group deployed from Alaska to take part in the exercise, alongside the Hawaii’s 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons pilots and associated ground personnel who took part to this Combat Hammer as well.
The successful delivery of air-to-ground weapons marks an important step for the Hawaiian Raptors towards declaration of Initial Operational Capability.
Here’s another chapter of the F-22 oxygen problems saga.
According to their attorney, Frederick M. Morgan Jr, who talked to The Daily press on May 9, the two F-22 pilots who were among those pilot requesting not to fly the Raptor because of the oxygen-deprivation problems with the fifth generation stealth fighter, would be ready to resume flying, right now.
Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Josh Wilson, belonging to the 192 Fighter Wing of the Virginia Air National Guard, experienced hypoxia symptoms while flying the U.S. top fighter plane. They aired their concerns as “military whistleblowers” (hence being protected from punishment under the U.S. Federal Law), on CBS 60 Minutes on May 6, when they said they were “uncomfortable” flying the U.S. stealthy fighter.
As explained by their attorney, the two fighter jocks feel more comfortable about flying the Raptor now, since the Air Force has removed the charcoal filter installed to detect contaminants in the air supplied to the pilots; a filter that gave them the feeling it was harder to breath.
In the seven months since the grounding on the F-22 fleet was lifted, there have been 11 more oxygen-deprivation incidents in 7,000 sorties.
In order to defend the F-22 Raptor’s reputation (and, implicitly, the company’s image), Lockheed Martin has started a sort of promotional campaign on social networks as the two “whistleblowers” appeared on national TV.
According to a press release issued on May 5, 2012, Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of Air Combat Command, will soon begin flying the Raptor in order to better understand what his F-22 pilots are dealing with.
The admission came out of the blue, ahead of the interview of two such pilots with Lesley Stahl during CBS 60 Minutes, that will be broadcast on May 6.
Indeed, as the Air Force struggles to identify the root cause of the hypoxia-like symptoms experienced by the Raptor pilots, Hostage believes this risk is not a risk he expects his airmen to take alone.
“I’m asking these guys to assume some risk that’s over and above what everybody else is assuming, and I don’t feel like it’s right that I ask them to do it and then I’m not willing to do it myself — that’s not fair,” he said, adding that the day they figure out what the problem is the day he will stop flying.
The entire fleet was grounded from May to September 2011 and since the stand down was lifted the ACC has implemented a series of risk mitigation measures aimed to prevent further incidents.
Although Hostage understands the concerns, he says that risk must be balanced with operational requirements:
“In a peacetime training circumstance, we want to operate at as low of risk is prudent for the level of training we get out of a mission,” he said. “When we go into combat, risk goes up, but the reason to assume that risk goes up as well.”
They are not supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan nor replacing any other legacy fighter elsewhere, but they are flying air-to-air training sorties in UAE. Therefore, maybe, there’s no need to take the risk.
Unless we assume that the Raptors in the Gulf are going to be involved in an attack on Iran: in this case the F-22 would be needed, at least to perform air superiority missions, since those currently “near Iran” are not yet air-to-surface capable.
Here’s a cool image of the final F-22 aircraft (Air Force serial number 10-4195) delivered to the U.S. Air Force on May 2, 2012.
The aircraft will be assigned to the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JEBR), Alaska, where F-22s already equip the active duty 90th and 525th Fighter Squadrons and the 302nd FS, an Air Force Reserve Associate squadron.
The photograph is particularly interesting because, according to the EXIF data shown by Flickr, it was taken with a Hasselblad H4D, a high-end professional, costly (depending on the model the price range is comprised between 27,000 and 44,000 USD), medium format DSLR camera, that is famous for its super-high resolution images.
The most expensive camera for the final most advanced (and troubled) stealth fighter plane ever built.