Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Report: 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo Celebrates USAF 70th Anniversary at Nellis AFB

Expo Showcases USAF Heritage, Capabilities and Breaking Barriers in Military Aviation.

It is the premiere U.S. Air Force air show: the Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. This year’s Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the U.S. Air Force with displays and demonstrations rarely seen at any other air show. The theme of the show is “Breaking Barriers” and showcases advances that have crossed gender and race in the U.S. Air Force.

Nellis Air Force Base is adjacent to the sprawling Nellis Range farther north. The range covers a total of 4,500 square miles. It is home of the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nevada National Security Site, Tonopah Test Range, Groom Range, Tikaboo Valley and the fabled “Area 51”. To the southwest is “Star Wars Canyon”, one of the premiere low-flying training areas in the world. It is one of the few places where lucky aviation photographers can photograph real world, low-level flight training- if they’re lucky.

Part of what differentiates Aviation Nation from other air expos and air shows around the world are the unique Air Force units that live at Nellis, and those units’ capability to demonstrate the air force mission better than anyone. While Aviation Nation only covers two days of the year, the capabilities and missions demonstrated during the expo are lived every day by the officers and airmen of Nellis.

One of the most unique and dynamic demonstrations at Aviation Nation is the USAF Warfighter Demo, a combined air and ground demo that showcases the unique Aggressor units and their capability to simulate opposing forces and tactics. The demo also highlights Air Force air superiority capabilities, close air support and Combat Search and Rescue missions and capabilities.

For the first time at an airshow the Lockheed F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter demonstrated its role in both close air support and also air superiority in a single mission. The F-35A flew in the Warfighter Demo alongside the A-10C Thunderbolt II. The demo reinforced the role of F-35A as a complementary asset to the A-10C, and an aircraft that can use its advanced capability to fill the role of the A-10C in addition to performing the air dominance mission.

The demo began with a simulated attack on Nellis Air Force Base performed by F-16s of the 64th Aggressor Squadron. F-15 Eagles on ready alert responded by taking off to contest the aggressors. A pair of F-35A Lighting IIs arrived and the Aggressors were quickly routed by the F-35s and F-15s.

A pair of F-15 Eagles leap off the runway at Nellis AFB during the Air Combat Demo. (All photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

Following the air combat phase of the demonstration a simulated rescue of a downed airman featured HH-60G rescue helicopters and A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft providing close air support. The new component of the close air support demonstration was seeing the F-35As transition from their air superiority role in the first demo to the air support operation in the second phase of the demo, providing simulated close air support along with the A-10Cs during the rescue demo. The message in the demo was clear, the F-35A can perform the close air support mission. While this was only a demonstration, it did provide at least the visual insight that the F-35A can do close air support (CAS). The demo showed the low altitude, close support capability of the F-35A alongside the A-10C for the first time at Aviation Nation.

A pair of F-35As performed close air support (CAS) alongside A-10s in the Air Combat Demo.

Highlights of the veteran, military and media day at Aviation Nation on Friday, November 10, 2017 included a surprise visit by USAF Air Combat Command Commander, General James M. “Mike” Holmes. General Holmes inspected a specially painted F-15 Eagle honoring the city of Las Vegas in the wake of the tragic mass shooting on October 1, 2017.

General James M. “Mike” Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command (right) inspects the special livery F-15 Eagle.

General James M. “Mike” Holmes with members of the team responsible for the special F-15 and surprise F-16.

There was the surprise unveiling of an F-16 Fighting Falcon (shown in the top image) also painted in a new, commemorative livery honoring Las Vegas and the memory of victims lost and survivors recovering from the October 1st mass shooting.

The Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo takes place this weekend, Saturday, November 11 and Sunday, November 12, 2017 at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. Admission is free to the public.

U.S. Consindering Sale Of E-8C JSTARS Surveillance Aircraft To South Korea

According to a South Korean newspaper, Washington might sell the E-8 aircraft to Seoul. Meanwhile, a JSTARS frequently operates south of the DMZ.

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a joint U.S. Air Force – Army program.

The JSTARS is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. It uses a multi-mode side looking radar to detect, track, and classify moving ground vehicles deep behind enemy lines. Its primary mission is to provide theater ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting: through an antenna that can be tilted to either side of the aircraft to develop a 120-degree field of view, the JSTARS can cover nearly 19,305 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) and detect targets from a distance of 250 kilometers. Although the E-8C’s role is to build and update the picture of the battlefield, focusing on ground and moving targets, the the radar has also limited AEW-like capabilities: it can also detect helicopters, rotating antennas and low, slow-moving fixed wing aircraft even though these are partially hidden in the ground clutter. Surveillance data can be relayed in near-real time to the Army and Marine Corps common ground stations and to other ground command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, or C4I, nodes.

In other words, the E-8C, currently operated by the U.S. Air Force through the 116th ACW, is a key asset, that has not been exported outside the US. However, South Korea officially requested the JSTARS system during a Security Consultative Meeting with the United States late last month, The Dong-A Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, reported on Nov. 3.

South Korean defense officials, including Defense Minister Song Young-moo, cited the JSTARS as a top priority system with which to cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. […] Washington responded by expressing it will to positively consider the request. In a joint statement after the security meeting, the two allies agreed to strengthen cooperation in the South Korean military’s acquisition of state-of-the-art U.S. weapons systems.

The JSTARS, which played key roles in the Gulf War and Iraq War, was deployed to South Korea in November 2010 for the first time to closely monitor the North Korean military’s movement immediately after the North’s artillery attack on South Korea’s frontline island of Yeonpyeong Island. It was also deployed to South Korea during last month’s joint naval exercise on the South Korean waters, along with a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier battle group.”

Actually, a U.S. E-8C has been operating over South Korea, not far from the DMZ, for a few weeks. In fact, even though the presence of the JSTARS not far from North Korea is not a surprise, since the aircraft is probably constantly updating the position and monitoring the movement of the North Korean forces along the border and across the peninsula, it’s at least worth of note that an aircraft has frequently showed up on flight tracking websites since Oct. 21, more or less when Seoul voiced its interest in the asset.

Once again, the aircraft could be tracked online because of its Mode-S transponder.

Oct. 31:

Nov. 2:

As said, the presence of an E-8 (99-0006) in the skies over South Korea is pretty normal. We don’t know whether the aircraft had South Korean observers on board or was involved in a sort-of demo but what’s really unusual is the fact that such a “strategic surveillance aircraft” could be tracked online. However, as we have already reported several times, many millitary aircraft, including spyplanes and drones remain visible on flight tracking websites regardless to whether they are involved in an operative mission or a ferry flight and years after we started highlighting the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders. So much so this author tends to believe those aircraft purposely broadcast their positions for everyone to see, to let everyone know it was there. A new way to wage Psychological Warfare and deter Pyongyang.

H/T Patrick Casey for the heads up and thank you again to our friend @CivMilAir for the outstanding coverage of milair traffic around the world.

 

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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.

That Time 25 F-117s Flew Over Holloman AFB In The Largest Stealth Aircraft Formation Ever

On Oct. 27, 2006 a 25-plane formation celebrated the Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary and 250,000 flying hour.

The Lockheed F-117A, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft and one of the most secret planes ever developed, only flew at night until its existence was publicly acknowledged in 1988.

59 production aircraft (one of those was lost to the Serbian Air Defense during “Operation Allied Force“ whereas another one crashed in 1997 during an airshow in Maryland) served with the U.S. Air Force until the type was officially retired in 2008.

Little less than half of them flew together over Heritage Park at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, home of the 49th Fighter Wing, during the Silver Stealth event for the F-117’s 25th anniversary on Oct. 27, 2006.

Five formations of F-117s flying over Holloman AFB on Oct. 27, 2006 (U.S. Air Force)

The images in this post were taken during the event about 11 years ago: the largest F-117 formation ever, the largest 49th Fighter Wing formation and the largest stealth jets formation ever.

As already said, the aircraft was officially retired in 2008. However, back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs of the aircraft flying few years after the official phase-out (the most recent clip that we have posted here at The Aviationist shows the aircraft flying in July 2016) had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force affirmed that the Black Jet was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, meaning that the type was to be maintained until called into active service.

To do what? Hard to say.

Twenty-five F-117 Nighthawks line up waiting for takeoff from Holloman Air Force Base, NM. The planes were part of a formation celebrating Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary/250,000 flying hour here. The 25 plane were separated into 5 groups and flew over the base to end the celebration ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brian Ferguson)

Designed in the 1970s, subsonic, optimized for the evasion of the C, X and Ku-bands, and completely unable to dynamically map out threat emitters in real-time as the F-22 or the F-35 can do, the F-117 is *probably* still relevant in some low or medium-lethality scenarios but unable to keep pace with most modern threats. In this post you can find the latest available video as well as a few theories ranging from tests of new radar systems which would be capable of detecting stealthy aircraft, to modified UCAV versions, through tests of new weapons, up to a brave hypothesis of getting the Nighthawks modernized and operational again.

Meanwhile, enjoy a sight never to be repeated again: the 25 stealth jets flying together in 2006.

F-117 Nighthawks fly over New Mexico as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 27. The formation was part of the Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary and 250,000 flying-hour celebration. The formation consisted of 25 planes staggered into five separate groups.

25 Nighthawks fill the sky over Holloman on Oct. 27, 2006 (Image credit: Denny Lombard via Lockheed Martin).

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Here Are Some Interesting Details About The Way U.S. B-2 Bombers Trained Over The U.S. To Strike North Korea

Some unusual activity took place in the skies over Missouri a couple of weeks ago. Including B-2s referring to air strikes on DPKR target on the radio. Just routine stuff or a message to Pyongyang?

What appears to be a medium size exercise, involving several different assets, took place over CONUS (Continental U.S.) in the night on Oct. 19 and Oct. 18, 2017.

Tons of military traffic, including B-2s and B-52s bombers, E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft supported by KC-10 and KC-135 tankers were involved in a series of simulated air strikes on little airports all over Missouri. Radio comms over unencrypted UHF frequencies as well as the use of Mode-S and ADS-B transponders allowed milair airband listeners in the area to monitor the operations and to catch some interesting details. Besides the rather unusual amount of traffic (at least according to people who have been monitoring military air traffic through radio scanner for the last 15 years), what is really interesting is the fact that, during one night, one of the aircraft radioed a message about a “possible DPRK leadership relocation site” whose coordinates pointed to a hangar located at the Jefferson City airport.

This is what one of our readers wrote to us:

On the evening of Oct. 17, my wife and I where sitting outside by a fire enjoying the evening.

Around 8pm we saw three B-2s and what appeared to be a KC-135 fly over on a heading of roughly 080 and an altitude of 25,000 or below. It was after dark but at that altitude B-2s are easily identifiable if they have navigation lights and strobes on from directly underneath. We get quite a few military aircraft in eastern Kansas and this was nothing unusual.

I have been monitoring military air-air communications as a side hobby for a number of years so B-2s as well so the overflight prompted me to run and grab a handheld scanner. Shortly after turning on the scanner I heard the B-2s working Kansas City center using “BATT” [a previous version of this article referred to the c/s as “Bat”, however, Spirit pilots pointed out the right c/s is “Batt”] callsigns (most of the time they tend to use REAPER or DEATH).

After about 30min had passed, I picked up the B-2s and other aircraft on another frequency where they where using military brevity. It was clear they where simulating some kind of battle. They where talking to another callsign MOJO getting tasking to drop GBUs on different targets. They read some target Lat/Lon over the radio: quickly plugging one into Google Maps I found they where dropping bombs on a hanger at Jefferson City, MO, airport going as far as discussing the fusing time for best effect on target.

The next evening I was ready if the exercise continued with more receivers in place and proper recording software. About the same time (roughly 8pm) they started up dropping bombs on targets with tasking from MOJO and WOLVERINE. One of the targets, consisting of several Lat/Lon sets, was the runway and hangers at Osage Beach, MO airport. At one point they called friendlies in contact and proceeded with a danger close 150m airdrop at the same hangar at Jefferson City airport as the night before.

This is the first time I have heard a exercise of this magnitude over this area.

The first night they tried to use HAVE QUICK frequency hopping and I heard several timing pulses but they couldn’t seem to get all of the members of the net setup properly (that could have been planed to practice contingency plans). They also didn’t employ any encryption that I could hear so the whole exercise was broadcast for the world to hear in plain old analog UHF AM. The most interesting part was when they radioed “a command post possible DPRK leadership relocation site” but when this was said I had not started recording it yet.

My opinion is that the Missouri Ozarks look a lot like North Korea, but we have no way of telling if something is planend or they are just preparing in case things go south.

The amount of money spent and the number of national assets involved sets this far above anything I have heard around here.”

Here below you can hear what this reader has recorded during the above drills. It’s just a 5-min audio file cut from a longer +30min version. However it gives pretty much an idea of what was happening on Oct. 18.

Was the exercise aimed at simulating a raid on a North Korean “VIP”?

Most probably yes. This is something that is being planned for months. Night missions of three-ship B-2 flights (using the very same callsign “Batt”) are standard practice as our recent story of three Spirit stealth bombers refueling over southwest Missouri few days before the above exercise was monitored proves.

What is weird is the fact that radio comms included a clear reference to a DPKR target. Indeed, it’s no secret that thousand radiohams, aviation geeks, aircraft spotters etc. use radio transmission to track military air traffic. For this reason, real ops are always conducted with a strict radio discipline, so that no detail is leaked to the “enemy” (or anyone who should not have the right to listen) and encrypted radio frequencies or frequency hopping techniques are used. However, the whole exercise was carried out on very well known unencrypted frequencies. This could have happened because of a mistake (usually names of enemy nations are never specified during radio comms) or on purpose, to let the word spread that the B-2 are preparing to attack North Korean targets. A sort of subliminal message such as the one sent with a video that showed, for the very first time, a Spirit bomber drop a 30,000-pound MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) “Bunker Buster” bomb or one of the various show of force missions flown from the U.S. (or Guam) to the Korean peninsula.

Dealing with Mode-S transponders, these made some of the aircraft involved in the ops, visibile on flight tracking websites. However, this is far from being unusual: despite the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders many aircraft, including RC-135s, Global Hawks and other strategic ISR platforms operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them.

Okie 33 was a KC-135 supporting the B-2s during their simulated air strikes.

An E-3 Sentry also supported the Spirit bombers during their simulated air strikes.


Top image: Todd Miller

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