Tag Archives: South Korea

USAF F-35As Deploy to Japan For Pacific Command Theater Security Program Ahead Of Trump’s Asia Trip

Air Force F-35A Deployment Joins U.S. Marine F-35Bs to Add Capability Near Korea.

In what appears to be a continuation of U.S. preparedness in the Asian theater amidst tensions with North Korea, the U.S. Air Force has deployed the first two of twelve F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters to Kadena Air Base in the Okinawa prefecture of Japan.

The F-35As deployed to Kadena are from the 34th Fighter Squadron, the “Rude Rams” of the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah. The twelve F-35As will be supported by 300 Airmen from Hill AFB also deployed to Kadena. They are currently scheduled to remain in the region for six months according to the USAF.

USAF General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander, said in an official statement that, “The F-35A gives the joint warfighter unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging threats while complementing our air superiority fleet.” Gen. O’Shaughnessy went on to say, “The airframe is ideally suited to meet our command’s obligations, and we look forward to integrating it into our training and operations.”

An F-35 Lightning II, from Hill Air Force Base Utah, prepares for take-off at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Oct. 13, 2017. The aircraft was on its way to the 2017 Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition in South Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)

The move of a significant number of combat-ready F-35As to Kadena, the largest and busiest U.S. air base in the far east, follows the August 9 deployment of three B-2 Spirit strategic bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing in Missouri to Anderson AFB in Guam (even though it must be noticed B-2s can perform round-trip missions from their homebase in CONUS as proved recently). This build-up of the most advanced U.S. air combat assets is significant. It reinforces the ongoing military pressure being applied in the region largely as a result of escalating weapons testing by North Korea.

The U.S. has also positioned the Ohio-class nuclear submarine, the USS Michigan (SSGN-727) for operations from Busan Naval base in Yongho-dong, South Korea beginning on October 13, 2017. The arrival of this submarine is significant since it is currently configured to deploy U.S. Navy SEAL special operations teams using miniature submarines from special well-decks mounted on top of its hull.

The USS Michigan (SSGN-727) with well decks mounted on top of its hull to support the deployment of SEAL delivery vehicles. (Photo:Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA)

Navy SEAL special operations teams are trained to provide a number of roles in support of any potential air campaign in the region, including reconnaissance, target designation and search and rescue of downed air crews in denied areas.

The beginning of the naval exercises with the USS Michigan and other ships in the region took place between Oct. 16 – 26. An official U.S. Navy statement saying the operations would promote “Communications, interoperability and partnership” reinforces speculation that the submarine may be preparing to support larger potential combined air operations with the U.S. Navy, Marines and the Air Force.

Earlier this year we spoke with an F-35A pilot from Hill AFB after his unit made Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in August of 2016 and then deployed to Lakenheath, England, Bulgaria and Estonia in 2017. Since then the tempo of operations for the Hill AFB F-35As has been especially busy.

The U.S. Marines have already operated their F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the joint strike fighter from Okinawa, Japan when they deployed two aircraft from Marine Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) of Marine Aircraft Group 12 at Iwakuni, Japan to Kadena back on June 26, 2017. The Marine Corps mission was to familiarize the F-35B operations team with the airfield at Okinawa. VMFA-121, an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017.

The deployment of 5th Gen. aircraft to Japan comes as President Trump prepares for his first official visit to Asia (and Japan), amid growing nuclear tensions with North Korea.

These Spyplanes Are Watching North Korea’s Next Test

U.S. and South Korean intelligence gathering aircraft are monitoring Pyongyang’s next move.

Kim Jong Un says North Korea may soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean and, based on the signals broadcast by their Mode S/ADS-B transponders, it looks like several aircraft operating from their deployment bases in Japan and South Korea are interested in collecting signs of missile launch preparation.

In fact, despite their pretty clandestine roles, many U.S. spyplanes can be tracked online, using a standard browser to visit a public tracking website or COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) equipment.

For instance, here are the most interesting aircraft operating around the Korean Peninsula in the last few days. Needless to say, these are the ones whose transponder exposed their presence; many others are probably operating in the very same area, but adhering to stricter OPSEC rules that require the aircrew to completely turn off their transponders.

As already reported in detail, the RC-135S Cobra Ball missile tracking aircraft is the asset whose activities may give a pretty clear idea of what is happening or about to happen in North Korea.

 

The RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, are able to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight. The aircraft is equipped with a powerful radar array on the starboard side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. Several optical quality windows are mounted on the starboard side as well, allowing infrared and visible spectrum cameras to record the warheads during their final moments of flight. A distinctive feature of the Cobra Ball is the black low-glare paint used on the starboard wing, whose purpose was to improve image quality and prevent glare during photography when the RC-135S launched from Shemya AB, Alaska, to monitor the Soviet activities in the Sakhalin peninsula: although the aircraft still feature the black paint on the aircraft’s right hand side, the current electro-optical sensors are able to remove glare from photographs. Moreover, the current Coobra Balls are equipped with optical and electronic sensors on both sides of the fuselage. RC-135S crews are augmented by several ground based, phased-array radar systems, such as the COBRA DANE radar at Eareckson Air Station in Shemya, used to provide radar coverage over the Northern Pacific.

Another aircraft that is often tracked in the region is the WC-135 Constant Phoenix, one of the two aircraft operated by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base, with mission crews staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center able to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.

The Constant Phoenix, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crew made of up to 33 personnel, flies in direct support of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System, a global network of nuclear detection sensors that monitor underground, underwater, space-based or atmospheric events. The aircraft was first deployed to Kadena in April this year. Since then it has been tracked mainly in the aftermath of each nuke detonation.

 

The aircraft is equipped with external flow devices used to collect airborne particulate; for this reason, the Constant Phoenix “Nuclear Sniffer” is usually launched after the claimed nuke tests, to detect fission fragments by their characteristic decay radiation and verify the nuclear test and get some important details. For example, by looking for isotopes that could only be produced in a high intensity high energy neutron flux, analysts can determine if bomb was indeed a hydrogen bomb.

These Aircraft Sampled Air For Radioactive Particles To Determine If North Korea Actually Detonated A Hydrogen Bomb

 

Another interesting aircraft that was recently tracked online is the South Korea’s Boeing 737 Peace Eagle airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft. This aircraft (that in the Turkish Air Force service can be spotted every now and then on Flightradar24.com circling at high altitude over southern Turkey most probably monitoring the movements of the Russian and Syrian planes)

Although the aircraft could be involved in routine AEW tasks monitoring the activities of the North Korean assets close to the DMZ, the Peace Eye embeds a variety of ESM (Electronic Support Measure) sensors that can be used to detect, intercept, identify, locate, record, and/or analyze sources of radiated electromagnetic energy augmenting the intelligence gathered by U-2S, RC-135V, RQ-4 Global Hawk, U.S. Navy EP-3E and P-8 and other assets that undertake ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) tasks on North Korea.

Anyway, OSINT as well as the analysis of the aircraft movements by means of ADS-B may give a pretty good idea of what happens around North Korea as Pyongyang prepares for a new test. One may wonder why such missions can be tracked online. This has been the subject of many articles. Considered that the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders is very well-known, it seems quite reasonable to believe that RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine, Libya, or Korea, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even everyone can monitor them. It’s a way to show the flag and prove that somebody is watching. Still, we can’t completely rule out the possibility it’s just a mistake.

Anyway, regardless to whether it is done on purpose or not, point your browser to ADSBexchange or follow some of the Twitter accounts who constantly track such aircraft, such as our friends @CivMilAir (who helped with the preparation of this article) and @aircraftspots, to get an idea of what is happening in the airspace around the Korean Peninsula.

 Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Watch A USAF C-17 Air-Launch An Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Target Over The Pacific Ocean During A THAAD Test

A C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 418th Flight Test Squadron air-launched a ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean.

On July 11, a U.S. Air Force C-17 airlifter supported a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense test at Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska.

Indeed, the C-17 air-launched an IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) target north of Hawaii that was detected, tracked and intercepted by the TGAAD weapons system.

According to an Air Force release, the test, designated Flight Test THAAD (FTT)-18, was executed by MDA, supported by elements of the U.S. Army, Joint Forces Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska, Ballistic Missile Defense Operational Test Agency, DoD Operational Test and Evaluation, and the Army Test and Evaluation Command.

This was the 14th successful intercept in 14 attempts for the THAAD weapon system. According to MDA, “the THAAD element provides a globally-transportable, rapidly-deployable capability to intercept ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight. The MDA says THAAD is strictly a defense system. The system uses hit-to-kill technology whereby kinetic energy destroys the incoming target. The high-altitude intercept mitigates effects of enemy weapons before they reach the ground.”

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, during Flight Test THAAD (FTT)-18 July 11, 2017. During the test, the THAAD weapon system successfully intercepted an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile target. (Missile Defense Agency photo)

The 418th Flight Test Squadron has supported these MDA tests over the years.

“The 418th is the only organization on Earth capable of airdropping MDA’s largest and most capable ballistic test missiles providing a vital examination of U.S. strategic defense assets,” said Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, 418th FLTS commander. Soldiers from the Army’s 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade conducted launcher, fire control and radar operations using the same procedures they would use in an actual combat scenario. Soldiers operating the equipment were not aware of the actual target launch time.

The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat comes amidst growing concern about the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea.

Ballistic missiles have been carried by U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft during testing activities conducted in the past.

In 1974, the U.S. thought that the best way to preserve its ICBMs (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) from Soviet nuclear strikes was to load them in C-5 Galaxy airlifters and keep them on the move.

A three-stage Minuteman, 56 feet in length and 86,000 pounds in weight, was attached to some parachutes that could drag it out of the cargo hold and then point it upward, then it was loaded into a Galaxy and air launched over the Pacific from the aircraft: a timer ignited the rocket motor and the missile flew for about 25 seconds before it cascaded into the Pacific Ocean.

Salva

Salva

U.S. A-10s and F-16s take part in impressive Elephant Walk in South Korea

Wow! How many A-10s and F-16s can you count in these stunning photographs?

“Elephant walk” exercises are conducted quite regularly at airbases all around the world to test the squadrons ability to launch large formations of aircraft at short notice.

During this kind of drills, combat planes (including tankers) taxi in close formation in the same way they would do in case of a minimum interval takeoff; still, depending on the purpose of the training event, the aircraft can either take off or return back to their parking slots.

Since war time operational conditions are simulated, tactical aircraft that take part in “Elephant Walks” are usually armed.

“Elephant Walks” are particularly frequent in South Korea where local-based U.S. Air Force jets (often alongside Republic of Korea Air Force planes) frequently stage such “collective shows of force” in response to North Korea’s aggressive posture and threats.

The latest one was held on May 9 and involved more than 40 aircraft (looks like they are 43), including 15 A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft with the 25th Fighter Squadron “Draggins” and F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 51st Fighter Wing, Osan Air Base, South Korea, with some additional F-16 aircraft with the 179th Fighter Squadron “Bulldogs” from the 148th Fighter Wing out of Duluth Air National Guard Base, Minnesota.

The “Elephant Walk” on the runway at Osan was one of the events of Exercise Beverly Herd 16-01 whose aim was to assess of U.S. Air Force capabilities and strength and showcases the wing’s ability to generate combat airpower in an expedient manner in order to respond to simulated contingency operations.

Click on the image below to open the high-rez panoramic photograph that shows all the aircraft!

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Watch South Korean and U.S. combat planes drop bombs on range hills during massive show of force

That’s a live firing exercise!

The following video was filmed in mid August 2015, at Seungjin Training Field, South Korea, during 2015 Integrated Live Fire Exercise.

It shows, among the others, ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) F-15Ks and KF-16s, dropping bombs on the range, ROKA AH-64, MD500 and KUH-1 helicopters, MRLS as well as some U.S. Air Force A-10s using its GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type.

The drills were also supported by a South Korean Boeing 737 AEW&C Peace Eye that can be seen at the beginning of the video releasing flares.

The interesting footage shows an air power demo (to flex muscles against North Korea and China) rather than actual firing training: needless to say, no combat plane would ever use purple or yellow smoke during a real combat sortie.

Many thanks to @andiegewehre for the heads-up