Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Interesting Photos Show U.S. Air Force F-35A Stealth Jets Deployed To Japan About To Launch Without Radar Reflectors

Some recent photos of the Hill AFB F-35s deployed to Kadena Okinawa, seem to suggest the 5th Generation fighters have started operating in “stealth mode”.

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area.

The two radar reflectors on the right side of the F-35A (the remaining two are located in the same positions on the left side). Image credit: LM (hightlight by Author)

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

The lack of reflector on the top left position of this F-35 is pretty evident in the following photographs:

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, goes through pre-flight checks prior to taxiing Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

 

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, performs pre-flight checks prior to a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, communicates with Maj. Matthew Olson, F-35A Lightning II pilot from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, before a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is deployed under U.S. Pacific Command’s theater security package program, which has been in operation since 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

For comparison, the following photo shows one of the 388FW F-35A jets on the ground at Kadena in November 2017 with the radar reflector.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Charles, 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, goes through pre-flight procedures Nov. 16, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Rotational forces are integral to increasing our military combat capabilities, which are essential to U.S. power projection and security obligations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Obviously the lack of radar reflectors is not a big deal: during their deployment to RAF Lakenheath last year, F-35As of the 388th FW have flown without reflectors some local sorties with the 48th FW F-15E Strike Eagles (for example on Apr. 26, 2017). However, photographs of deployed F-35s without Luneburg Lenses are pretty rare and, for this reason, interesting and newsworthy.

 

 

12 U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II Deployed To Afghanistan To Join Air Campaign Against Taliban

After 3 years, the “Warthog” returns to Afghanistan.

A dozen A-10C Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft have arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on Jan. 19 to bolster (USFOR-A) and Afghan National Defense and Security Force’s (ANDSF) air campaign against the Taliban.

The aircraft belong to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and arrived in Afghanistan via Al Udeid, Qatar. The aircraft were originally headed for Incirlik, in Turkey, to join the fight on ISIS, but the Pentagon decided to “divert” the A-10s to Afghanistan, to support the increased need for close air support and precision strike capacity against Taliban and their revenue sources.

According to an official release, “the arrival of these aircraft follows a recent decision by U.S. Air Forces Central Command to realign aircraft, airmen, and assets already in the U.S. Central Command AOR to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to support increased airpower requirements of ANDSF and USFOR-A to implement South Asia Policy under Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Along with a detachment of KC-135 Stratotankers that have operated from Kandahar since September, the A-10s, MQ-9s and HH-60G will complement F-16s, C-130J, EC-130H and other aircraft supporting these operations from Bagram Airfield.

These increased assets will assist with the ongoing ANDSF strategic air campaign that targets Taliban revenue sources of which are aimed at aggressively taking the fight to the Taliban.”

Along with the Thunderbolt squadron, additional aircraft will be moved to Kandahar Airfield, including MQ-9 Reapers that provide armed over-watch and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, to conduct personnel recovery and search and rescue.

Commonly known as the Warthog, the A-10 will be launched in air strikes against Taliban narcotics production facility. According to the U.S. Air Force, since November, 30 strikes conducted against Taliban narcotics production facilities resulted more than $20 million in total impact on Taliban revenue.

With a relatively low-cost platform much closer to these targets than the Raptors supporting Operation Inherent Resolve from the Persian Gulf, such anti-drug air strikes will also be more cost-effective: on Nov. 20, F-22 Raptors forward deployed to at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and supported by KC-10 Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, also based at Al Dhafra Air Base, launched their first air strikes in Afghanistan employing small diameter bombs to hit plantations of poppy (processed into illegal opiate drugs such as heroin) in Helmand Province.

Under the authorities granted in the South Asia Policy, precision strikes with A-10s will hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams and profits from developing and selling illegal narcotics.

“The A-10 provides planners even more options given its ability to deliver a wide variety of precision munitions and devastating firepower from its 30mm cannon,” said U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Lance Bunch, chief, Future Operations, CJ35. “In the coming weeks, the A-10’s operations will be integrated into our combined U.S. and Afghan air campaign to deliver destructive precision firepower that sends a strong impactful message to the Taliban.”

By the way, whereas it continues to rely on the A-10 to perform CAS in Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force is letting the Thunderbolt die by shelving plans to replace the remaining wings on the rest of its A-10C fleet.

The U.S. A-10s will be complemented by the Afghan Air Force (AAF) assets, that will more than double their fleet of aircraft over the next seven years: besides the introduction of A-29 ground attack aircraft, C-208 and C-130 mobility aircraft, MD-530, and Mi-17 helicopters last year, plans include the introduction of AC-208 attack aircraft and UH- 60 Black Hawk assault helicopters, as well as additional A-29 attack aircraft and MD- 530 attack helicopters.

“The growing Afghan Air Force is vital to the success of ANDSF on the battlefield,” said Major General Mohammad Shoaib, commander, AAF. “Dedicated pilots and crews provide resupply, close air attack, casualty evacuation, and air assault capabilities to their brothers on the ground. The success of the Air Force is key to tipping the battlefield in favor of ANDSF. The Afghan Air Force is successfully fighting and growing at the same time increasing attack capabilities while delivering daily blows to the Taliban.”

If you are interested in the A-10, don’t miss our “BRRTTTT….deployments, war chronicles and stories of the last A-10 Warthogs” available both in ebook format and paperback version from Amazon.

 

U.S. Approves Possible Sale of 34 Lockheed F-35s to Belgium; Japan Deploying First F-35 to Misawa; India Allegedly Enters Conversation.

Based on latest news, it may have been a good weekend for the F-35.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement late Friday confirming it has approved the possible sale of 34 Lockheed F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters to Belgium. The authorization permitting the sale of advanced defense technology is a key step toward completing the actual purchase, quoted to be worth up to “$6.53 billion USD”. The proposed contract with Lockheed Martin, builder of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, would include 38 new Pratt & Whitney advanced F-135 jet engines that power the F-35.

Based on reports Belgium would potentially buy the F-35A variant of the Lightning II, the same variant used by the U.S. Air Force. One of the selling points of buying into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is cross-force interoperability. Belgium potentially operating the same variant as the USAF, Dutch and Italians may have been one factor that helped propel the potential deal for Belgium.

Still, the F-35A is still not the replacement for the Belgian Air Force F-16s: the 5th generation aircraft will face competition from the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon in the response to a Request for Governmental Proposal (RfGP) issued by Bruxelles last year.

The decision from Belgium is expected by mid-2018.

Belgium received U.S. authorization for the purchase of the “A” version of the F-35 shown here at Nellis AFB as operated by the USAF. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

 

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force also announced this week it will begin its first-ever deployment of a Japanese ASDF F-35A Lightning II at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan later this month. The single aircraft to be stationed and operated from Misawa is the first of 42 Lockheed F-35A Lighting IIs to be delivered to Japan as their primary multi-role combat aircraft. The JASDF will deploy an additional 9 aircraft operationally to Misawa by the end of 2018 bringing the total Japanese operational F-35A force to 10 aircraft by year’s end.

A key weapon system on the JASDF F-35As will be the advanced, long-range Norwegian-built Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace Gruppen Joint Strike Missile (JSM). The JSM is a variant of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile and is carried in the interior weapons bay of the F-35A, maintaining its low observable characteristics. The Kongsberg JSM can strike targets up to 500 kilometers away from its launch point, enabling Japan to strike many potential adversaries without leaving its own airspace, a key concern since Japan’s air force is labeled as a “self-defense force” and constrained from operations outside Japan’s legally defined defense air space in most instances.

Japan’s first F-35 will become operational this month according to Japanese media. (Photo: NHK Japan)

Finally, a story that appeared in India’s Economic Times said that, “American aerospace and defense major Lockheed Martin has proposed to manufacture custom-built F-35 fighter jets in India, which its officials say will give Indian industry a unique opportunity to become part of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem.”

The story, that appeared in Indian media on Jan. 20, 2018, did not specify what “custom built” F-35s meant, but may hint at a down-spec version of the F-35 airframe with different avionics and sensors than some other export manufactured versions of the F-35 to maintain security interests.  The same article discussed the use of the AN/APG-83 radar system, different from the AN/APG-81 on the U.S. and other partner nation F-35s.

There is no additional verification of any Indian F-35 manufacturing program in other media outlets. Oddly, another Indian media outlet, the Free Press Journal of India, published a similar story on the same day claiming the U.S. planned to build F-16s (not F-35s) in India. The Free Press Journal of India story read, “American aerospace and defense major Lockheed Martin has proposed to manufacture custom-built F-16 fighter jets (ed’s note: not F-35s as quoted in the India Economic Times article) in India, which its officials say will give Indian industry a unique opportunity to become part of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem.”

Confusing press coming out of India aside, Lockheed Martin and all of the F-35 subcontractors have to be pleased to start out the new year with a host of encouraging stories about the F-35 program.

Update Jan. 22, 19.30 GMT:

We were notified that the original version of a Press Trust of India article posted late last week, has since been corrected to remove the erroneous “F-35” reference in the first sentence of the article—see corrected article here: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/lockheed-martin-proposes-custom-built-fighter-jets-to-be-made-in-india-1802538. The first sentence of PTI’s article now reads:

“American aerospace and defence firm Lockheed Martin has proposed to manufacture custom-built F-16 fighter jets in India, which its officials say will give the Indian industry a unique opportunity to become part of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem.”

 

Six B-52 Strategic Bombers Deploying To Guam To Replace Six B-1s And Join Three B-2Mes Already There

The U.S. Air Force bomber trio (B-52, B-2 and B-1) currently deployed to Guam: it’s the second time since August 2016.

Six B-52H bombers and approximately 300 Airmen from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, are deploying to Andersen AFB, Guam, in support of U.S. Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission. Two Stratofortresses have arrived in Guam on Jan. 15; the rest are expected to deploy in the next hours. They join six B-1s and three B-2s already in Guam.

The iconic B-52 bombers will relieve the B-1B Lancers that deployed from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, on Aug. 6, 2016, as part of their first CBP deployment in support of the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) deterrence efforts in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in 10 years.

During their deployment, the 37th EBS conducted a variety of joint and bilateral training missions with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, South Korean air force and Royal Australian Air Force, including some symbolic shows of force against North Korea alongside the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B forward based in Japan.

The bomber trio at Guam in August 2016.

Noteworthy, at the beginning of their tour of duty in the Pacific in 2016, the B-1s replaced another B-52 detachment: the 69th EBS from Minot AFB, ND. Before the Stratofortress bombers started returning home, three B-2s arrived in Guam for a “short-term deployment”: exploiting the presence of the three bomber types on the very same forward operating base, on Aug. 17, 2016, the U.S. Air Force conducted the first coordinated operation in the U.S Pacific Command AOR (Area Of Operations) launching three aircraft (1x B-2, 1x B-52 and 1x B-1) in sequence from Andersen Air Force Base to conduct simultaneous operations in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia.

Considered the presence of B-52s, B-2s and B-1s once again together at the same time in Guam will give the U.S. Air Force the opportunity to launch again the trio in an integrated bomber operation in the Pacific similar to the one carried out in the Summer of 2016.

“The B-52H’s return to the Pacific will provide USPACOM and its regional allies and partners with a credible, strategic power projection platform, while bringing years of repeated operational experience. The B-52 is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,166.6 meters) and can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability. This forward-deployed presence demonstrates the continued commitment of the U.S.to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” says the U.S. Air Force official release.

The B-52 deployment in support of the CBP missions brings again a constant (at least until the next rotation) nuclear bomber capability within striking distance of North Korea.

Meanwhile, four B-52H Stratofortress aircraft have arrived in the UK for theatre integration and training at RAF Fairford. The aircraft are from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and will conduct theatre integration and training in Europe.

Many “Buffs” deployed across the globe!

The U.S. Air Force Has Deployed One Of Its EC-130H Compass Call Electronic Warfare Aircraft To South Korea

One of the few EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, capable to find and hit the enemy forces with denial of service (and possibly cyber) attacks on their communication networks, has been deployed to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets: “The Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”

The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.

An EC-130H Compass Call travels along the taxiway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 27, 2017. Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system that uses noise jamming to disrupt enemy command and control communications and deny time-critical adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.

According to the official data:

The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.

The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.

Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.

Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.

With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.

Obviously, we can’t speculate about the reason behind the deployment of the Electronic Warfare with alleged Cyber-Attack capabilities (that could be particularly useful against certain threats these days….) aircraft south of the DMZ: however, the presence of such a specialized and somehow rare aircraft in the Korean peninsula, that joins several other intelligence gathering aircraft operating over South Korea amid raising tensions for quite some time, is at least worth of note.

Update: some of our sources have suggested that the aircraft was deployed to perform anti-IED (Improvised Electronic Device) tasks during the Winter Olympics, kicking off on Feb. 9, 2018 in PyeongChang County, South Korea.