Tag Archives: Russia

Will Russia Ever Develop an Equivalent to the U.S. Light Attack Experiment?

Could Russia Develop A Turboprop Light Combat Aircraft? Most probably, no. But discussion brings some weird concepts to light…

An obscure Russian language news story briefly appeared in social media earlier this week that raised an interesting question: why isn’t Russia more vigorous in developing their own light attack aircraft program, especially for export? The article featuring conceptual renderings of Russian light attack concepts was published on the Russian language website “Aviator.Guru” on July 16, 2018. It was shared on the Russian aviation Facebook page “BKC России”.

The Aviation.Guru article showed renderings of what early developmental concepts for Russian manufactured light attack aircraft could look like. Although fictional, the images are interesting set against the backdrop of Russia’s involvement with anti-insurgent warfare in Syria, increasing need for defense export products and the U.S. Light Attack Experiment.

Counterinsurgency aircraft concepts like the one shown in this rendering have appeared on the Internet recently (Credit: AviatorGuru)

While images of Russian conceived light attack aircraft have been circulated among design schools and even aircraft manufacturers for five decades, Russia has never funded or progressed a large-scale project beyond the conceptual design/illustration phase. This seems odd, given the country’s increased emphasis on military export to countries with smaller defense budgets involved in anti-insurgent campaigns. Perhaps the trend is about to change.

Russia has been more conspicuous about very large aircraft projects, most notably the PAK-FA development that yielded the Sukhoi Su-57, a program that, as confirmed by several sources, including a July 12, 2018 report by Business Insider’s Alex Lockie, has now been scaled back considerably from full production. Russia has even teased an ambitious “PAK-DA” stealth bomber concept, even less likely to reach full-scale development than the now reportedly-struggling Su-57 program given budgetary concerns. Both these fiscally driven scale-backs seem to point the direction of Russia’s growing export tactical aircraft industry in the direction of light attack.

Light attack has been a big trend for western defense manufacturers. After ambitious progress in the U.S and operational deployment of Afghan light attack aircraft, the U.S. recently halted their ongoing Light Attack Experiment conducted largely from Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The effort was intended to evaluate not just new aircraft for the light, counter-insurgency role but also to assess new ways for the Air Force to streamline some future acquisition programs. The project was put on hold pending an investigation into a fatal accident on June 22, 2018 that claimed the life of U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Christopher Carey Short. The U.S. Air Force has said they remain dedicated the to the light attack concept.

Light attack aircraft, especially turboprops, are conspicuously absent from both Russia’s own air force and their export offerings to nation states that buy tactical aircraft from Russia. Given Russia’s involvement in the Syrian anti-insurgency and the influence of the Russian military aviation industry throughout Africa and Asia, an inexpensive, easily maintained light attack turboprop counterinsurgency aircraft that could operate from austere forward airfields could theoretically be a good seller for Russia’s growing export military aviation industry.

Russia’s current light strike capability is distributed across rotary wing assets like the Kamov Ka-50/52, Mil Mi-28 and the venerable Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters and two jet types, the successful Sukhoi Su-25, more analogous to the large U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the more modern Yakovlev Yak-130, currently employed by Russia as an advanced trainer but also suited for the light attack role.

Russia’s Yak-130 advanced jet trainer has been demonstrated with heavy weapons load and could be employed in the light-attack role (Image credit: Irkut)

The July 16, 2018 “Aviator.Guru” article initially discusses a need for easily maintained light attack aircraft to be used after a larger, primarily jet, air force is degraded in a large scale nuclear conflict. The article goes on to suggest, [translation]:

“If you correlate the date of the appearance of the program and the requirements for it, it becomes clear that [it is not] a post-apocalypse attack plane, but an ordinary anti-guerrilla aircraft (also COIN – a coupon-insurgency aircraft). Representatives of this class of aviation showed themselves well in Vietnam and over Latin America. No less useful they would be for the USSR in Afghanistan.”

One of the most bizarre renderings featured a pusher contra-rotating propeller system. (Credit: Aviator.Guru)

It would appear that the renderings featured originally in the article were prepared as concepts in a design school and/or think-tank feasibility study. Portions of the study date back to the Soviet-era during the 1980s:

[Translation] “Various late versions of the LVSH [“Light Attack Experimental Program”] of the late 80’s and early 90’s: The flying prototype of the LVS never started to be built – neither in the late 80’s, nor even more so in the early 90’s. With the collapse of the Union, all the chances for the appearance of this machine in metal disappeared, but the flow of creativity could not be stopped. The models of storm troopers [aircraft concepts] surprised visitors of various exhibitions with courageous decisions – but they did not cause any interest. Too expensive, too complicated to manufacture and operate. There was no money for them in their home country.”

The translation suggests that budgetary concerns limited the former Soviet Union’s exploration of a light attack/reconnaissance/forward air control turboprop analogous to the U.S. OV-10 Bronco and A-1 Skyraider of the 1950s and 1960s.

One version of a Russian light attack aircraft did reach production though. The Khrunichev T-411 Aist or “Stork” first flew in November 1993. It is a light, high-wing utility/surveillance/light attack/counter insurgency aircraft developed by the Russian company Aeroprogress and eventually put into production by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. There was even a version sold to the civilian general aviation market in the U.S as the Aeroprogress T-411 Wolverine powered by a Continental TSIO-550-B turboprop engine. It was even offered in kit form as the Washington T-411 Wolverine. There is little information about the production numbers or outcome of the Khrunichev T-411 program, which suggests it was largely unsuccessful.

Given the legacy of some of Russia’s rugged design concepts that have made their way into aircraft like the WWII Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik anti-tank aircraft and the later Sukhoi Su-25, the country’s design bureaus seem uniquely qualified to produce a rugged, simple to operate, highly capable light attack aircraft. But to date, other than interesting conceptual renders and a possible increase in conversation, little appears to be happening in Russia to parallel the U.S. Light Attack Experiment. At least for the moment.

Top image credit: Eugeny Polivanov/Commons

Ukrainian Su-25 Frogfoot Jet Flies At Ultra-Low Altitude Over The Sea Of Azov

A Ukrainian attack jet almost “buzzed” bathers on a beach at a popular resort town in southeastern Ukraine amid growing tensions with Russia in the Sea of Azov.

Su-25 attack jets are particularly comfortable at very low altitudes and the Ukrainian Frogfoots often fly at low-level as part of their Close Air Support training.

Indeed, we have published many videos showing the Ukrainian Su-25s involved in treetop navigations and ultra-low level flyovers in the past. Here’s a clip reportedly filmed last Friday by vacationers at Kirillovka, a resort town on the Sea of Azov, in southeastern Ukraine, some 65 km from the border with Russia in Crimea in the southwest, and about 140 km southwest of the breakaway Donetsk region.

According to Sputnik News media outlet, the attack aircraft was involved in Ukrainian border guard drills in the Sea of Azov, a region of raising tensions with Moscow: in March, Ukraine’s border guards detained a Russian fishing boat. Russia accused Ukraine or ‘state piracy’ and last week, Russia detained two Ukrainian fishermen accused of poaching, the Russian State-sponsored reported.

By the way, the short video proves the Su-25 is a really quiet jet aircraft, isn’t it?

Actually, low level flying is not only a Frogfoot jets prerogative. Take a look at the following episodes of the “Ukrainian low level activity saga” we have posted here at The Aviationist: a Ukrainian Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails; an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); here’s an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway and another fully armed Mig-29 Fulcrum in the livery of the Ukrainian Falcons aerobatic display team flying over an apron at an airbase in Ukraine; here’s a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; and here you can see a Su-27 performing a low pass after take off.

H/T Lasse Holmstrom for the heads-up!

This Updated Chart Shows (Most Of) The Assets Involved in Apr. 14 Air Strike On Syria

This revised chart provides a good overview of the assets that took part in the Trilateral strikes on Syria last month.

As our readers already know, in the night between Apr. 13 and 14 the U.S., UK and France launched air strikes against Syria. By means of an OSINT analysis, we were able to determine the presence of most of the aircraft which took part in the operation, most of those could be tracked online via information in the public domain, hours before their involvement was officially confirmed.

Based on the “picture” we have contributed to build up, the popular one-man site CIGeography has prepared an interesting chart to visualize the type and number of the assets that have taken part or supported the strike. Although this is a revised version of an original chart posted on Apr. 29, it still contains some inaccuracies: for instance, just 6 out of 8 French C-135FR tankers are shows; at least 11 US tankers supported the American aircraft at various times; two RQ-4s are shown in the chart although we have tracked just one example [#10-2043 – a serial that is still subject to debate] and no other Global Hawk is known to have been committed, etc. Moreover, little is known about the aircraft that operated from the UAE and Qatar bases (including the EA-6B Prowlers, known to have supported the B-1s) and whose presence and number could not be determined by means of online flight tracking; still, it represents the only available chart that summarizes the types, the airbases and the weapons used to attack Syria last month.

Make sure you follow @CIGeography on Twitter and Facebook. You can also buy one of the posters based on this and other charts CIGeography has produced here.

Why Is A Swedish ELINT Aircraft Operating Off Lebanon and Syria These Days?

A Swedish Air Force heavily-modified Gulfstream IVSP aircraft used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) missions has joined the long list of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platforms operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

On May 1, 2018, a Swedish Air Force S102B Korpen has started operating in the eastern Med.

The aircraft is one of two SwAF’s S102B Korpen aircraft, heavily-modified Gulfstream IVSP business jets used to perform ELINT missions. These aircraft have been in service with the Swedish Air Force since 1992, when they have replaced the two TP85s (modified Caravelle airliners formerly belonging to the SAS airline) that had been operated for 20 years since 1972. They are equipped with sensors operated by ELINT personnel from the FRA (the Radio Establishment of the Defence), capable to eavesdrop, collect and analyse enemy electronic emissions. As we have often reported here at The Aviationist, the Korpen jets routinely conduct surveillance missions over the Baltic Sea, flying high and fast in international airspace off the area of interest. The most frequent “target” of the S102B is Kaliningrad Oblast and its Russian installations. For this reason, the Swedish ELINT aircraft are also frequently intercepted by Russian Su-27 Flankers scrambled from the Kaliningrad exclave’s airbases.

Anyway, it looks like the Swedish airplane has now pointed its sensors to the Russian signals in Syria, deploying to Larnaca, Cyprus: the example 102003/”023″, using callsign “SVF647”, was tracked, by means of its ADS-B/Mode-S transponder, twice on May 1, flying off Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt, more or less in the very same way many other aircraft (U.S. Navy P-8s, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 and RC-135s) have been doing for some weeks.

Here’s the first mission in the morning on May 1:

Here’s the second mission, later on the same day (21.40LT):

Considered the quite unusual area of operations, one might wonder why the Swedish S102B is currently operating close to the Syrian theater, so far from home. We can just speculate here, but the most likely guess is that the aircraft is collecting ELINT off Syria to acquire new baseline data for assets that are deployed there and which may either be currently or imminently deployed in Kaliningrad. Possibly surface vessels too, which might add to the Baltic Electronic Order of Battle. “I think they are just acquiring ELINT that is unique to Syria and might have applications in the Baltic,” says a source who wishes to remain anonymous.

For sure, with all the Russian “hardware” deployed to Syria, often referred to as a “testbed” for Moscow’s new equipment, there is some much data to be collected that the region has already turned into a sort of “signals paradise” for the intelligence teams from all around the world.

Top image: Peter Bakema/Wiki and @ItaMilRadar

Rock Band Honors Gary Powers With New Song on U-2 Incident Anniversary

“Powers Down” is a tribute to Francis Gary Powers, the late U-2 pilot recipient of the Intelligence Star, by rock band One Man Mambo.

During the late 50s, with the approval of Pakistani Government, U.S. President D. Eisenhower established a secret intelligence facility in Badaber (Peshawar Airbase), equipped with a runway that allowed U-2 spy planes to perform secret missions over the majority of the Soviet airspace.

On May 1, 1960, fifteen days before the scheduled opening of an East-West summit conference in Paris, pilot Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Badaber on board its “Dragon Lady” Item 360 for a mission over the Soviet Union. The task was to photograph ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) sites in and around Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk and then, landing at Bodo, Norway.

The flight was hardly a surprise, since Soviet defenses were pre-alerted by the U-2 unit “10-10” piloted by Bob Ericson: some weeks before, he had overflown some of the top secret military installations such as the Semipalatinsk Test Site, the SAM test site, the Tyuratam missile range and the Dolon airbase with its Tu-95 strategic bombers.

According to some Russian sources, just after the U-2 was detected, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered all the air unit commanders on duty “to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of foreign plane’s course, and to ram if necessary (see for details: http://www.webslivki.com/u11.html – Russian language only).

Some fighters took off immediately but like the previous alerts, all the attempts to intercept the foreign plane failed. Eventually the U-2 was hit and shot down by the first of three S-75 Dvina surface to air missiles fired by a defense battery.

According to Russian sources, it is interesting to know how Pilot Gary Powers, after successfully bailing out from the plane, was soon captured by the Russians and was found with a modified silver coin which contained a lethal saxitoxin- tipped needle…to be used in case of torture!

After the event, the whole Soviet air defense system was obviously in red code but the lack of coordination brought to a curious incident often hidden by the ordinary tale of facts: the SAM command center was unaware that the foreign plane had been destroyed for more than half so that at least 13 further anti-aircraft missiles were fired, one of them shooting down a MiG-19 and killing his pilot, Sergei Safronov.

The episode became of an outstanding relevance among the international community and represented one of the higher peaks of the face off between the two nuclear superpowers.

On May 1, 2018, 58 years after the incident, One Man Mambo, a rock band founded in 2016, releases a tribute to Francis Gary Powers.

“Gary Powers’ U-2 mission over the mighty Soviet Union has fascinated me since I took U.S. History in high school” said band member Lazar Wall in an email to The Aviationist. “Particularly impressive were the ramming attempts by a Sukhoi fighter jet, and the unfortunate death of a Soviet pilot whose MiG got hit by friendly fire. The Iron Maiden song Aces High, about Spitfires and ME-109s in the Battle of Britain, was definitely an influence on Powers Down. Our band released its first aviation-related song at the end of last year. Flight 2933 is a tribute to the Chapecoense players and staffers from Brazil who perished in a 2016 air accident.”

The song, titled “Powers Down” will be on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services May 10.

Meanwhile, here’s the lyric video of the song, in case you are interested in a quite unusual (at least by our standards) way to honor one of the world’s most famous pilots:

Top image credit: CIA / RIA Novosti

The description of May 1, 1960 incident is taken from our previous article “Airspace Violations – Episode 5” that you are strongly suggested to read for more details.