Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

EQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Deployed to UAE with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Payload Reaches 20K Flight Hours

One of the RQ-4B Global Hawk drone converted into EQ-4 has logged 20,000 flight hours operating as a “flying gateway” for other aircraft involved in the air war on ISIS.

On Feb. 13, one of the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drones reached 20,000 flight hours. The UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is one of the three RQ-4Bs converted into EQ-4 and carry the BACN payload instead of the imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors: it’s primarily a data and communications bridging node that supports multiple bridges simultaneously across multiple radio types. The crews who operate these particular flying gateways call them: “Wi-fi in the sky.”

“This milestone was the original lifespan of the aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Pipes, Hawk Aircraft Maintenance Superintendent deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, in a public release. “It’s exciting to see where this technology and this aircraft can take off too and how it can help those who are downrange.”

The aircraft (based on the photo the example “A2019”, an RQ-4 Block 20 converted into EQ-4), reached this milestone at its deployment base of Al Dhafra, UAE, from where the Global Hawks equipped with a Battlefield Communications Airfield Node payload are regularly launched for missions that can last 24 hours, or more. For instance, the very same aircraft surpassed the 10,000 flying hours in March 2015 during a 30.5-hour mission.

“From being a manned aircraft pilot, getting 12-hours in the air was a long day…you needed a day or so to recover before going up on your next mission,” said Major Manuel Ochoa, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk pilot from the 99th Air Expeditionary Recon Squadron stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base. “When it comes to this plane, you can cycle pilots without having to land and that is a great benefit.”

Missions flown by the BACN platforms are extremely important. As explained several times here at The Aviationist, BACN is a technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to transfer information and communicate.

The U.S. military uses various datalink systems to exchange tactical information, and many are not capable of working together.  For example, a U.S. Air Force F-15 can use its Link-16 system to exchange target information with a U.S. Navy F/A-18.  However, the F/A-18 could not exchange information with a USAF B-52 or B-1 bomber.  The advanced F-22 can connect with other Raptors via datalink but can only receive over the standard, legacy Link-16 datalink used by most allied aircraft.

This lack of compatibility between different platforms is a major obstacle in all those theaters where air assets from many services are called upon to provide support for ground troops of different nations.  Additionally, the complicated joint operations required to engage a modern integrated air defense system are greatly simplified by exchanging target information via datalinks.

Hence the need for a “flying gateway” as the EQ-4s, all assigned to 380th Air Expeditionary Wing based at Al Dhafra Air Base to support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve).

An U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk logs over 20,000 flight hours Feb. 13, 2018 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)


The BACN system is also used to link ground troops and Forward Air Controllers (FACs)/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment.  For instance, in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead.  Moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal in a combat situation.

E-11A aircraft (Bombardier Global 6000 advanced ultra long-range business jets that have been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload) with 430th Expeditionary Electronic Squadron deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan have been involved in this kind of missions (some of those trackable on the Internet as highlighted several times) since they arrived in theater for the first time 9 years ago.

By orbiting at high-altitude for long times, BACN equipped air assets can provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky.  For example, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from a battle area while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces FAC on the ground.  The A-10 pilot could wait until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that the original story refers to BACN as “Battlefield Communication Airfield Node”.

This Video Shows U.S. MQ-9 Reaper Drone Destroying a Russian-made T-72 Tank in Syria

The U.S. Air Force Central Command has released the video of a T-72 tank destroyed by a drone in Syria.

The following video shows a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone destroying a Russian-made T-72 main battle tank in Syria in what U.S. officials have defined a “defensive strike against pro-Syrian government forces”. The second one in less than a week.

According to Reuters the air strike took place near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Sunday. The U.S. military said the tank was destroyed after it moved within firing range of the U.S.-backed forces. Although the Pentagon said no U.S. or SDF forces were killed by the tank no detail about the type of weapon used in the strike – either a JDAM or Hellfire – has been provided.

The strike came few days after a major clash with pro-Assad forces and coalition forces overnight between Feb. 7 and 8 in Deir el-Zour Province: the U.S. launched significant air power to protect coalition advisors and Syrian Democratic Forces in a series of raids that may have left 100 or more of the pro-Syrian government personnel dead. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of Air Forces Central Command said the U.S. forces on the ground called in coalition strikes for more than three hours, involving F-22 stealth aircraft, F-15Es as well as MQ-9 Reaper drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters.

Lightning Strike Tore A Person-Sized Gash In B-52 Bomber Tail

A lightning struck a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing upon final approach to Barksdale Air Force Base: the tail of the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

On Dec. 19, 2017, B-52 Stratorfortress (60-0051), with the 93rd Bomb Squadron/307th BW AFRC was about to land at Barksdale AFB, La, when the crew heard something that sounded like a thud coming from the outside of the bomber. The aircraft landed safely, but once on the ground the crew discovered that the sound they heard was actually a lightning strike that tore a person-sized gash completely through the tail of the aircraft.

“Close encounters” between civil and military aircraft and lightnings occur every now and then around the globe.

In the 1980s, some F-16 Fighting Falcon jets were lost after being struck by lightinings. In one case, the lightning ignited the vapors in the empty centerline tank, which exploded causing extended damage to the aircraft’s hydraulic system.

Since lightning strikes are quite rare (1 event each year on average) these are seldom a real risk to military or civil aviation.

Furthermore, planes are shielded by a so-called Faraday Cage made by a conducting material, that blocks out external static electrical fields: charges redistribute on the conducting material and don’t affect the cage’s interior.

All commercial and mil planes have to meet several safety lightining-related requirements to get the airworthiness certifications required in the U.S. and Europe. For instance, they must be able to withstand a lightning strike without suffering significant airframe damage, without any possibility of accidental fuel ignition in the tanks and preserving the avionics and systems failures induced by the electromagnetic field created by the electrical charges of the lightning.

The old tail from aircraft 60-0051, a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, bears a gaping hole from lightning damage incurred at the end of a routine training mission. The tail could not be repaired and had to be replaced. Changing an entire tail on the B-52 is an uncommon and difficult task, but maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron were able to accomplish the feat in about 10 hours of work time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle/released)

After assessing the damage, it was determined that the tail was damaged beyond repair and would have to be replaced: a large-scale, and uncommon, repair.

The B-52 is equipped with a lightning arrester designed to mitigate damage from lightning strikes, but this one was too strong even for the jet’s safeguards. “We see a handful of strikes every year, but out of all the maintainers we have, no one had seen lightning damage that bad,” said Lt. Col. George P. Cole, III, 307th Maintenance Squadron commander in a public release.

“I’ve been with the unit for fifteen years and this is the first time we have had to change a tail,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Nelson, 307th MXS flight maintenance superintendent. “We only had one other maintainer on our team that has ever changed one.”

According to the U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Eric Allison, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic, was the only maintainer on the eight person team with experience replacing a tail prior to the lighting strike. “It’s challenging because you have to position the tail just right and it is a two-thousand pound piece of metal,” he said. “It is like lining up the hinges when replacing a door,” said Tech. Sgt. David Emberton, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic. “You have to line it up correctly and the whole time it is twisting and flexing.”

Another possible obstacle was finding a replacement but instead of ordering it from the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group), the maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron found that one tail was available from a retired jet.

“Having that tail on hand saved us a great deal of time because ordering it from AMARG would have taken months,” Nelson said.

So, the 307th MXS completed the works and made the B-52 available for flight operations in just a couple of weeks. Sporting a different tail reclaimed from another decommissioned B-52, still able to take to air again.

By the way, the Stratofortress has already proved it can fly with damages to the tail: actually, even with a detached vertical stabilizer, as happened 54 years ago, when a B-52H involved in a test flight lost its tail at about 14,000 feet over New Mexico. Six hours later, the civilian test pilot Chuck Fisher and his three-man crew managed to perform the first and only Stratofortress‘s tailless landing.

Image credit: 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.