Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Watch C-17, A-10 and HC-130J Aircraft Operate From Delamar Dry Lake Bed (the original emergency landing site for the X-15)

U.S. Air Force landed and took off from the Delamar Dry Lake Bed, the emergency landing site for the X-15.

C-17 Globemaster III airlifters from 57th Weapons Squadron, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 66th Weapons Squadron, HC-130J from the 34th Weapons Squadron as well as HH-60Gs belonging to the 66th Rescue Squadron took part in USAF Weapons School squadrons composite mission application and combat search and rescue operations at the Delamar dry lake bed on the NTTR (Nevada Test and Training Range).

Referred to as “Texas Lake” dry lake bed because of its resemblance to the state of Texas from the air, Delamar Lake landing strip was established in 1943 and, in the 1960s it was designated emergency landing sites for the North American X-15, a rocket-powered, missile-shaped manned aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and NASA capable to reach the edge of space at an altitude between 100,000 and 300,000 feet at speed exceeding 4,500 MPH (+7,270 km/h) .

In fact, the dry lake bed was located underneath the Delamar Dry Lake Drop Zone where the X-15s brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet under the wing of a B-52 bomber, were dropped at a speed of Mach 0.8.

The Delamar Lake Landing Strip consists of a 15,000 ft long runway; still, considered the lack of obstacles, aircraft can land in any direction.

Along with making “unprepared landing strip operations” training possible, dry lakes can be particularly useful also in case of emergency: the huge lakebed can minimize the damage to a plane forced to land there. Here is what happened when a B-1 Lancer performed a crash landing on the Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in 1989. Here you can find a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy airlifter making a successful emergency landing once again at Rogers Dry Lake in 2001.

 

Two U.S. F-35s Have Deployed To Bulgaria Today

The U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft continue their tour of eastern Europe.

On Apr. 28, two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft, 14-5094 and 14-5091, belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base and temporarily deployed to RAF Lakenheath, UK, arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria.

The aircraft were supported by a single KC-135R Stratotanker, c/s “Nacho 81”, from 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, that launched from RAF Mildenhall.

Interestingly, the 5th Gen. aircraft used the very same radio callsigns used by the F-35s involved in the JSF’s first ever visit to Estonia on Tuesday: “Conan 01” flight.

According to the U.S. DoD, today’s training deployment has been planned for some time and was conducted in close coordination with Bulgarian allies. “It allows the F-35A the opportunity to engage in familiarization training within the European theater while reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region.”

“The aircraft and Airmen began arriving in Europe on April 15, and are scheduled to remain in Bulgaria for a brief period of time before returning to RAF Lakenheath to continue their training deployment.”

Already deployed to Graf Ignatievo Air Base, to take part in exercise Thracian Eagle 2017 were also 12 F-15C Eagle jets belonging to the 122nd Fighter Squadron of the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard that are in the involved in the drills along with the local-based Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29s as well as Su-25s from the Forward Deployment Air Base at Bezmer, L-39s from the Air Training Group at Dolna Mitropoliya Air Base, AS-532 AL, Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters from Krumovo Air Base, and air defence units.

Whilst “Nacho 81” could be tracked during its flight (to and back from) Bulgaria, this time the deployment to eastern Europe was not “accompanied” by any evident activity by U.S. or NATO intelligence gathering aircraft. In contrast, as already reported, on Apr. 25, flight tracking websites exposed the presence of a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent, an RC-135W Rivet Joint and a RAF Airseeker over or around Estonia.

The KC-135R supporting the F-35 to Bulgaria. (image credit: Adsb Exchange)

 

Has An RC-135U Combat Sent Signal Intelligence Aircraft “Covered” The Two F-35A Stealth Jets Visiting Estonia?

Yesterday two USAF F-35A stealth aircraft performed a quick visit to Estonia. But their mission to the Baltic region was probably not only supported by a KC-135: an RC-135U and two RC-135Ws flew to the area while the 5th Gen. jets were there.

On Apr. 25, two U.S. Air Force F-35As belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, deployed to the UK since mid April, flew from RAF Lakenheath, UK, to Ämari, Estonia.

Based on the information gathered by aircraft spotters, airband listeners and ADS-B monitors, who tracked the mission to Estonia of the F-35s, the two 5th generation multirole combat aircraft , 14-5102 and 14-5094, using radio callsign “Conan 01” and accompanied by “Quid 89”, a 100ARW KC-135 from RAF Mildenhall, departed from RAF Lakenheath at 07.35z.

The trio landed in Estonia shortly before 11.00z and took part in a brief ceremony (at this link you can find some interesting photographs).

Noteworthy, the quick visit to Estonia was “accompanied” by a rather unusual activity of U.S. and British spyplanes in the Baltic region.

In fact, as the F-35s headed towards Amari in formation with their KC-135 tanker, as many as three RC-135s (including a RAF bird) operated in the airspaces over or close to Estonia.

The U.S. Air Force dispatched an RC-135W Rivet Joint 62-4139 “Haiti 79” and an RC-135U Combat Sent 64-14847 “Spool 06” to the Baltic states.

The Rivet Joint positioned off Kaliningrad Oblast, where some of the most active Russian bases in the Baltic region are located, whereas the Combat Sent started a racetrack over Estonia, not far from the border with mainland Russia.

 

Shortly thereafter, even a RAF RC-135W “Airseeker,” one of the three ex-USAF KC-135 tanker converted to the Rivet Joint variant starting back in 2011, from RAF Waddington joined the scene. The British intelligence gathering plane that, just like the American “RJs” is equipped with all sorts of antennae and sensors, to eavesdrop enemy signals, transmissions, detect frequencies used by radio and radars and pinpoint sites of interest, mobile stations, SAM batteries, etc., maintained a racetrack off Kaliningrad.

RC135W ZZ664 RRR7220 west of Kaliningrad (via @CivMilAir)

At 14.43Z, the two JSFs departed Ämari to return to the UK and shortly thereafter both the U.S. and RAF spyplanes headed back to their homebases.

Although we can’t but speculate here, it appears to be quite likely that the RC-135 missions to the Baltic were somehow related to the deployment of the F-35 so close to the Russian border. In fact, whilst Rivet Joint and Combat Sent aircraft regularly fly to the region and can be daily tracked online as they head towards the international airspace off Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, the presence of three such spyplanes not too far away from one another seems to suggest their missions were coordinated and probably related to something “big” happening there.

And the only “big thing” (Zapad 2017 preparation aside) we are currently aware of is the first presence of the JSF in Estonia. Moreover, not only was the type of racetrack flown by the Combat Sent unusual, but it was also located in a pretty interesting position: east of Ämari, as if the RC-135U, an aircraft designed to collect technical intelligence on adversary radar emitter systems, was there to detect emissions from Russian radars interested in the F-35.

However, there is another possibility: what if the American and British spyplanes were there to deter the Russian from using their radars?

Indeed, whilst three RC-135s flying at the same time in the same area is something unusual, it is quite weird that the three spyplanes had their ADS-B transponder turned on during their missions.

“If they wanted to hide, they would do” says the ADS-B / ModeS tracking enthusiast who runs the popular @CivMilAir and @ADSBTweetBot Twitter feeds. “The daily RC-135s flights over the Middle East very rarely show up and even the daily missions to the Baltics can usually be tracked during their transit to the area of operations, where often the transponder is turned off. That’s why I believe they remained trackable on purpose.”

Spyplanes, including the U-Boat (as the RC-135U Combat Sent is nicknamed in the pilot community), usually operate in “due regard” with transponder switched off, with no radio comms with the ATC control, using the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts. Even if RC-135s can be regularly tracked online, they tend to keep a low-profile when reaching the area of operations, turning off the ADS-B to avoid being detected at least by commercial ADS-B receivers like those feeding online flight tracking systems such as Flightradar24.com, PlaneFinder.net or Global ADS Exchange.

On Apr. 25, both RC-135s could tracked throughout their missions suggesting they did purposely broadcast their position for everyone to see, to let everyone know they were there.

Russian spyplanes have done pretty much the same in the past: the Tu-214R, Russia’s most advanced intelligence gathering aircraft deployed to Syria and flew along the border with Ukraine with its transponder turned on. In that case it was a sort of “show of force”; yesterday was likely a way to prevent some interesting details about the F-35 to be gathered by the Russians.

By the way, it’s not the first time U.S. stealth jets flying to the Baltics are directly or undirectly “accompanied” by Rivet Joints: on Apr. 27, 2016, two F-22s deployed to Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania. Supported (so to say) by an RC-135W.

H/T to @CivMilAir, @MIL_Radar, Fighter Control forum

Top image credit: Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) via Wiki Commons

 

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New Photos Of U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II Refueling During Anti-ISIS Mission Show Interesting Weapons Loadout

Warthogs have started carrying 2,000 lb bombs. You won’t find many photographs of A-10s with GBU-31s.

The photographs in this post were taken from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during an aerial refueling mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on Apr. 19, 2017.

Among that mission’s receivers, there was also a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft.

Interestingly, the images of the “Hog” expose some changes in the weapons loadout of the A-10s involved in the fight against Daesh militants. Indeed, the aircraft depicted in the photos carries one GBU-12 Paveway LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs – on station 1 – the outmost one on the left wing), one AGM-65 Maverick missile (on station 3), one LAU-131 rocket launcher (station 2), three GBU-38 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions – station 4, 5 and 9), one GBU-31(V)1/B with MK-84 warhead (station 7) and an AN/AAQ-28 Litening AT targeting pod (station 10).

Station 8 has a GBU-54 laser JDAM whereas the LAU-131 on Station 2 is a LAU-131A/A model used for the new (and very awesome) AGR-20 laser guided rockets.

Among the mix of missiles, guided bombs and rockets, that complement the A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger 30-mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type, the most interesting addition is the GBU-31, a pretty heavy (2,000-lb) general purpose bomb with JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) GPS guidance system intended for mobile and fixed hard (and soft) as well as maritime surface targets.

This A-10’s worn out nose proves the Thunderbolt’s been hit several times by the flying boom during AAR operations (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride)

Although the GBU-31 is a type of weapon certified for use with the A-10 you won’t find many photographs showing other “Warthogs” carrying a 2,000-lb GBU-31: a sign that the coalition may also rely on Close Air Support platforms to hit targets which require a significant destructive power and blast radius.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II departs after receiving fuel from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve April 19, 2017. The 340th EARS, part of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, is responsible for delivering fuel for U.S. and coalition forces, enabling a persistent 24/7 presence in the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride)

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Here’s Why The U.S. Air Force Scrambled An E-3 Sentry Alongside Two F-22s To Intercept The Russian Bombers Off Alaska

For two days in a row, Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear bombers flew near Alaska’s airspace.

On Apr. 17 the U.S. Air Force scrambled two F-22 Raptor stealth jets, one E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft and a KC-135 tanker (according to some reports, others don’t mention the Stratotanker’s presence) to intercept two nuclear-capable Bears flying roughly 100 nm southwest of Kodiak.

The stealth jets took off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and intercepted the Russian aircraft inside the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), “the airspace over land or water in which the identification, location and control of civilian aircraft is performed in the interest of national security.”

ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.

North America ADIZs

The F-22 escorted the Tu-95s for 12 minutes (27 for some sources) before the Russian bombers headed back.

On the following night, that is to say few hours after the first “visit”, the Bear flew again inside the ADIZ but this time, the US Air Force opted to not scramble fighter jets but only the E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System). It’s not the first time the Russian Bears fly in the ADIZ, not even the first time that no fighter jet is scrambled to meet them.

Alaska ADIZ detail

“Combined scramble”

Let’s have a look at the first episode. It’s worth of note that along with the 5th generation interceptors, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) called for an alert take off by an E-3 Sentry. Most of times, QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) take offs by armed interceptors are supported by tanker aircraft, not by AEW assets: the fighters are guided to the unknown aircraft by ground air defense radars. That’s why I want to draw your attention on this “combined scramble.”

Launching the AEW along with the fighters is a “tactics” that allows the Air Defense to extend the radar coverage and to better investigate the eventual presence of additional bombers or escorting fighters flying “embedded” with the “zombies” (as the unknown aircraft are usually dubbed in the QRA jargon). At the same time, the presence of an E-3 allows the Raptors to improve their situational awareness while reducing the radar usage and maximizing as much as possible their stealth capability (even though it must be remembered that F-22s in QRA usually carry fuel tanks that make them less “invisible” to radars).

A combined AEW/F-22 scramble provides a more effective way to counter a possible “strike package”.

A long range sortie is not easy to plan. Even more so a strike sortie: the bomber are not only required to fly inbound the target (TGT) and reach a convient position to simulate the attack and weapons delivery, they also need to take in consideration many other factors. First of all “what is your goal?” Do you want to train for a realistic strike? Or do you want to “spy” or show your presence or posture?

Other factors are distance from own country, opponent’s defense capability, minimum risk routing according to the threats, presence of DCA (Defensive Counter Air), supporting assets, etc.

Usually, during a strike sortie, bombers are considered the HVA (High Value Asset), the one that must be protected. For this reason during the planning phase they are always escorted by fighter and protected by the Ground to Air threats by means of SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses), EW (Electronic Warfare) and everything is needed to let them able to hit their targeted.

However, escorting a strategic bomber is not always possible (nor convenient): considered their limited range, the presence of the fighters would heavily affect the long range planning, requiring support from multiple tankers along the route.

For this reason, although the Russians visit the West Coast quite often, they usually are not escorted by any fighter jet (as happens, for instance, in the Baltic region, where Tu-22s are often accompanied by Su-27 Flankers).

However, it’s better to be prepared and trained for the worst case scenario and this is probably the reason why NORAD included an E-3 AEW in the QRA team: to have a look at the Tu-95s and make sure there was no “sweep” fighters or subsequent “package”.

Based on my experience, the ones of last week were just simulated strike sorties with the only aim to test the U.S. tactics and reaction times. Something that happens quite frequently. There is also the chance the Bears were sent there while another Russian spyplane was in the vicinity to “sniff” the Raptors electromagnetic emissions. However, there are no reports of Il-20 ELINT aircraft in the area.

A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) lands at U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay. AWACS provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S. and NATO air defense forces and is considered to be the premier air battle command and control aircraft in the world today. U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley. (RELEASED)

Top image: file photo of a Raptor taking off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

 

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