Tag Archives: U-2

U.S. Air Force plans to remove almost 500 aircraft over the next five years

The USAF plans to divest entire fleets, including the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane and U-2 Dragon Lady spyplanes and “focus on the multi-role aircraft that can deliver a variety of capabilities combatant commanders require”

The Air Force is going to shrink over the next five years. This is the result of the structure changes announced on Mar. 10, following the FY15 President’s Budget announced on Mar. 4.

The plan is going to axe some 500 aircraft across the inventories of all three components, reshaping the Air Force as “a smaller and more capable force […] that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries” according to SecDef Chuck Hagel.

The reduction will affect squadrons based in 25 States and the District of Columbia; units based abroad will suffer minor cuts, in order to maintain a significant overseas presence. Nevertheless, Osan airbase in South Korea, will lose its A-10s, while RAF Lakenheath, in UK, will probably have to give away a whole squadron.

Over the next 5 years, along with the about 340 A-10s and 33 U-2s, the “adjustment” will cut about 70 F-15Cs, 119 MQ-1 drones, 6 E-8 Joint Stars planes, 7 E-3 AWACS, and 7 EC-130 Compass Call aircraft; such aircraft will be partially replaced by some upgraded F-16s, made available as new F-35s replace them, and 36 MQ-9 Reaper drones,  while all the remaining fleets will (more or less) be upgraded.

FY15 adjustments

The operation will save the Air Force some billion dollars that will be used to fuel top spending projects/priorities: the F-35 multi-role stealth jet, the KC-46 tanker and the new long-range bomber.

“In addition to fleet divestment, we made the tough choice to reduce a number of tactical fighters, command and control, electronic attack and intra-theater airlift assets so we could rebalance the Air Force at a size that can be supported by expected funding levels.  Without those cuts, we will not be able to start recovering to required readiness levels,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III in a press release.

Congress will probably alter the adjustment plan a little bit. Still, regardless of the money the lawmakers will commit to keep this or that plane and squadron alive, the U.S. Air Force will substantially shrink.

It will remain the most powerful aerial armada in the world, but not as large and powerful as it was years ago. Not a good thing, considered the opposite trends of the Chinese and Russian air arms.

Image credit: USAF

 

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Salva

“If we don’t keep F-22 Raptor viable, the F-35 fleet will be irrelevant” Air Combat Command says

The present and future of the F-35, A-10 and other platforms in the vision of the U.S. Air Force Air Command Command Chief.

In an interesting, open and somehow surprising interview given to Air Force Times, Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command Gen. Michael Hostage, explained the hard choices made by the Air Force as a consequence of the budget cuts and highlighted the position of the service for what concerns the F-35.

First of all, forget any chance the A-10 will survive. According to Hostage, one of the few ways to save some money cut from the budget is to retire an entire weapon system. And, even though the Warthog “can still get the job done”, the plane does not seem to be the weapon of choice in future conflicts, in which “the A-10 is totally useless“.
Obviously, a less drastic solution, as keeping half of the A-10 fleet in active service, is not viable as it would still require much of the costly support infrastructures the whole fleet need.

Another problem is in the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) domain. Politics urge the Air Force to keep buying Global Hawks, hence, given the current budget picture, the Air Force can’t afford both the U-2 Dragon Lady and the Global Hawk. That’s why the ACC Commander “will likely have to give up the U-2” and spend much money to try to get the large Northrop Grumman drone do the same things the U-2 has done for decades.

Dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter, Hostage says he is “going to fight to the death to protect the F-35” since the only way to keep up with the adversaries, which “are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet”, is by employing a sufficient fleet of 1,763 (“not one less”) F-35s. You can update and upgrade the F-15 and F-16 fleets, but they would still become obsolete in the next decade.

But, the F-22 Raptor will have to support the F-35. And here comes another problem. When the Raptor was produced it was flying “with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid’s game console in somebody’s home gaming system.” Still, the U.S. Air Force was forced to use the stealth fighter plane as it was, because that was the way the spec was written. But now, the F-22 must be upgraded through a costly service life extension plan and modernisation program because, “If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22,” says Hostage to Air Force Times.

Something that seem to confirm what we have written some time ago….

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

 

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Video: U-2 Dragon Lady flying the visual pattern as seen from the cockpit

Ever wondered what flying in the visual pattern at Beale Air Force Base looks like from the cockpit of a U-2 Dragon Lady legendary spy plane?

Here’s the answer.

Video: Global Hawk drone take-off from chase car at Beale Air Force Base

Although the footage is a bit bumpy, it provides a cool point of view: that of an RQ-4 Global Hawk spyplane’s chase car during the huge drone take off from Beale Air Force Base, California, home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing.

Chase cars are a safety measure used during take off and landing phases in order to give pilots assistance: highly trained pilot in those cars act as ground-based wingmen for the remote (or actual) pilots talking them through runway operations.

They are particularly useful when the size of the aircraft (either manned or unmanned) is such that the pilot’s view is obstructed by the airframe itself or there’s a risk of hitting any ground obstacle with a wingtip during taxi.

The U-2 Dragon Lady is the most famous aircraft assisted by a chase car during take-offs and landings.

U.S. drones and spyplanes involved in information gathering missions over Syria. As in Libya one year ago. More or less…

More or less one year ago, we were observing an increasing activity of U.S., British, French and Italian military spy planes perfoming information gathering missions along the northern border of the Tripoli FIR (Flight Information Region).

Quite silently, those SIGINT (SIGnal INTelligence) platforms flew in the Maltese airspace to eavesdrop into Libyan communications and signals and to collect the information needed to build up the so-called EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the Libyan forces, that would be used to have a better understanding of the situation in Libya, to know where forces were located and to build up a priority target list for the subsequent air campaign.

Presumed to remain (almost) secret, those flights were actually “advertised” by LiveATC.net, whose Maltese feeder  (shut down during the war) made the radio communications between Malta Area Control Center and the various EP-3s, RC-135 Rivet Joint, C-160G, British Nimrods R1s etc. transiting the local airspace before operating in “due regard”, public.

Although nowadays we can’t listen to the radio comms of the military traffic in that area as we did in February 2011 and we don’t have the same “evidences” we had one year ago, we can be quite confident that similar activities are being conducted in or around Syria from bases in Italy, Turkey or Cyprus (RAF Akrotiri airbase).

Along with the satellite image released by the US Embassy in Damascus some American defense officials told the NBC that “A good number of American drones are operating in the skies of Syria, monitoring the Syrian military’s attacks against opposition forces and innocent civilians alike”.

The Pentagon was quick to point out that these drones were providing surveillance not for a future military intervention but to gain evidence from both a visual and communications perspective to “make a case for a widespread international response”.

However, the confirmation that U.S. robots are flying inside the Syrian territory does pose the question: what type of drone are being used?

Most media outlets are using stock images of Predator or Reaper drones, but those unstealthy ‘bots would be vulnerable to the Syria SAM (Surface to Air Missile) network, believed to be among Middle East’s most robust ones. Both MQ-1 and 9 are Medium Altitude drones that could be operating in Syria only if flying outside the range of active SAM rings.

Hence, its conceivable that most ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions in the area are being flown by High Altitude platforms, as Air Force’s Global Hawks or U-2s (or even stealthy RQ-170s, as the one captured in Iran).

Even if Sigonella in Sicily, hosts the U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th, Incirlik in southern Turkey, being next to the border, seems to be more suitable for spy missions in Syria. Missions that these days could be aimed at assessing the type of activities conducted by the destroyer Shahid Qandi and the supply vessel Kharg, the two Iranian warships that have docked at the Syrian port of Tartus after passing through the Suez canal.

In fact Egyptian sources as well as members of the Syrian opposition claimed that the two vessels have been jamming satellite telephone communications of the Syrian opposition forces.

According to the same Egyptian sources, Assad’s forces have been finding it more difficult to monitor the oppositors’ communication due to their encrypted nature and someone believes that the Iranian Navy is helping him disrupting these encrypted communications.

A bit far fetched, considered that a land based systems would be less visible than two closely watched warships, but not completely impossible.

Worth a mention: an Israeli drone was spotted overflying clashes in Homs.

Anyway, the scenario is similar to the Libya of the end of February 2011. With the only difference that one year ago, the spyplanes did not fly into the “enemy” airspace.

Richard Clements has contributed to this article.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force