Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Interesting Photo Shows F-22 Raptor Landing At RAF Lakenheath With Open Missile Bay

This Is Something You Don’t See Too Often.

The photographs in this post were taken by our contributor Alessandro Fucito on Oct. 12, 2017. They show a U.S. Air Force Raptor jet, belonging to the 1st FW, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, deployed to the UK, since Oct. 8, landing at RAF Lakenheath with the side weapon bay open.

The stealth multirole jet AF 08-154 is one of the six involved in a FTD (Flying Training Deployment) in Europe. The aircraft have just completed a tour of duty at Al Dhafra airbase, UAE, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria and Iraq.

Noteworthy, an AIM-9X Sidewinder can be seen inside the open weapon bay.

The F-22 with the open side bays landing at RAF Lakenheath. (Image: Alessandro Fucito).

The latest variant of the Sidewinder missile is a recent addition to the F-22 Raptor inventory: the IR-guided missile has been integrated on Mar. 1, 2016, when the 90th Fighter Squadron (FS) belonging to the 3rd Wing stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska officially became the first combat-operational Raptor unit to equip an F-22 with the AIM-9X Sidewinder.

Most of US combat planes use the AIM-9X along with a Helmet Mounted Display since 2003 (by the way, one was fired at a Syrian Su-22 recently, but failed for reasons that are still unclear): with a HMD (like the American Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System – JHMCS), information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision. The HMD enables the pilot to exploit the full HOBS (High Off-Boresight) capabilities of the AIM-9X and engage a target by simply looking at it.

However the AIM-9X will not be coupled to a HMD as the Raptor is not equipped with such kind of helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery as the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts.

In 2019, the Air Force plans to equip the F-22 with the AIM-9X Block II, the F-22 will probably fill the gap as the most advanced variant of the Sidewinder is expected to feature a Lock-on After Launch capability with a datalink, for Helmetless High Off-Boresight (HHOBS) at intermediate range: the air-to-air missile will be launched first and then directed to its target afterwards even though it is behind the launching aircraft.

This will not give the F-22 the same ability as an HMD-equipped aircraft, still better than nothing.

The different AIM-9X envelopes (credit: Hughes via The War Zone)

Back to the top photo, we don’t know the reason why the aircraft flew with an open weapon bay. Although the aircraft can take-off and land with the open side bays, it’s something that happens quite rarely and this leads to believe it might have been because of some sort of system fault that prevented it from being closed.

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The Enigmatic SR-72 And the Palmdale Sightings: What Do They Tell Us About America’s Secret Hypersonic Program?

The Media is Full of Speculation, But What Do We Know and What Can We Predict?

One of 2017’s biggest defense and aviation stories is the anonymous sighting by a “handful of witnesses” of the landing of a mysterious, unidentified new aircraft at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 Production Flight Test Facility in Palmdale California. What was it?

Aviation Week reporter Guy Norris scooped the story but was guarded in his reporting of sources. On September 27, 2017 Norris wrote:

“According to information provided to Aviation Week, one such technology demonstrator, believed to be an unmanned subscale aircraft, was observed flying into the U.S. Air Force’s Plant 42 at Palmdale, where Skunk Works is headquartered. The vehicle, which was noted landing in the early hours at an unspecified date in late July, was seen with two T-38 escorts. Lockheed Martin declined to comment directly on the sighting.”

U.S. Air Force Plant 42 Production Test Flight Facility at Palmdale, California as seen from the air in an early photo. (Photo: USAF)

Nearly every article quoting Norris’ story suggests that, what the unnamed witnesses saw is related to a new global intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) gathering asset. Likely a new hypersonic remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) that could be a sub-scale developmental testbed for a planned manned version. While it is a significant leap to extrapolate this sighting to a full-scale manned platform, the silence from Lockheed Martin about the incident is deafening. Had the sighting been nothing, they would have said it was nothing.

It isn’t much of a leap to suggest that any proposed, new manned aircraft, colloquially referred to in most media as the “SR-72” would have global range, fly in excess of Mach 6, be low-observable and potentially have strike capability. This is one list of requirements for an SR-71 follow-on.

The U.S. Air Force Plant 42 Production Test Flight Facility at Palmdale, California with static display SR-71s and F-117s. (Photo: USAF)

When analyzing the role of a possible new strategic reconnaissance/strike asset, manned and unmanned, a few assumptions can reasonably be made. The mission of a high-speed reconnaissance (and possibly even strike) platform likely includes four unique capabilities for the strategic ISR and global strike mission:

1. It is very low observable. The relevance and quality of any intelligence collected is degraded substantially if the adversary knows it has been collected. A stealthy, ultra-high-speed intelligence gathering and strike asset could obtain signals, atmospheric and image intelligence across several spectrums potentially without detection. This improves the actionable relevance of the intelligence since the adversary does not know their operational security has been compromised.

2. It is timely. An ultra-high speed (some reports suggest Mach 6+) asset could be over the reconnaissance target area quickly and provide either real-time intelligence via secure datalink or be back on the ground quickly for retrieval and analysis of intelligence gathered over the target and stored onboard the asset.

3. It is difficult to intercept if detected. One of the primary defensive capabilities of the Mach 3+ SR-71 was its speed and altitude performance. It could outrun and out-climb most missiles and interceptor aircraft. But advances in detection, tactics, aircraft, aircraft weapons and surface to air missiles and even soon-to-be fielded focused energy beam weapons (as from the Chinese) provide a requirement for a faster, higher flying and lower observable platform.

4. It provides on-board decision-making capability in the manned configuration. While a manned asset exposes a flight crew to the risks associated with overflight it also keeps the human decision-making capability inside the mission loop. While this may not be critical in the ISR role, it may be in the strategic strike role. Once strategic strike platforms such as ICBMs and cruise missiles are committed to the attack they can be difficult to re-task or abort, especially in a dynamic tactical environment. A manned strategic strike asset with ultra-high-speed and global range retains a human in the decision loop. This is attractive both empirically and morally.

Having identified these four potential unique capabilities to a presumptive “SR-72” type asset it is appropriate to examine the possible regions and roles the asset would be employed in. Given the current and near-future strategic situation these four global missions may be part of the SR-72s tasking:

1. North Korea. The crisis has reached a near flashpoint with Pyongyang’s repeated missile and nuclear proliferation and continued adversarial rhetoric. Accurate and timely monitoring of North Korea’s actual testing activity and developmental capabilities is critical to managing the U.S. response in the crisis. This includes preventing the crisis from becoming an armed conflict. A strategic reconnaissance asset that is stealthy, fast and field-able would bolster the U.S. position in intelligence gathering, especially in this dynamic environment. A similar low observable, hypersonic strike asset would also be critical in maintaining our first strike capability should the rapidly evolving situation warrant it.

2. Iran. With potential changes in the U.S. doctrine and Iran’s nuclear policy maintaining real-time intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program is critical. The political environment surrounding Iran, and its attendant diplomatic ramifications, dictate that the best intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and any weapons development be gathered covertly and updated in a timely manner. While orbital reconnaissance assets can provide excellent imaging across the entire spectrum from visible to infra-red to electronic emissions a reconnaissance satellite cannot collect atmospheric samples that are key to detecting nuclear testing. Also, re-tasking spy satellites not already in position with orbits over key targets makes a more dynamic, high-speed, low-observable atmospheric reconnaissance platform desirable.

3. Syria. The tenuous relationship with Russia in the Syrian conflict has been well-managed to date, but the potential for serious incidents still exists. Intelligence gathered covertly in real or near real-time about both Syrian and Russian activities in the region can help manage each participants’ agendas while lowering the risk of fratricide and other accidental conflict. It can also provide exclusive intelligence to the United States unavailable to other participating nations, providing a strategic intelligence advantage in the conflict.

4. The emerging global theater. The United States enjoys a geographic separation from the major Asian, African and Middle Eastern conflict areas. The geographic separation from conflict zones afforded by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans has been a significant reason for the U.S. ability to maintain security and prevent a large-scale conflict on U.S. soil. But this geographical distance from conflict zones also means preemptively managing conflict globally. It requires long reach and high-speed for timely intelligence gathering. A new high-speed, low-observable ISR/strike platform is required to maintain that agenda. This is a persistent requirement within the U.S. arsenal and will remain indefinitely.

Global conflicts thousands of miles from the U.S. dictate the continued need for stealthy, long range, high speed strategic reconnaissance (Photo: Center for Preventative Action)

Any new strategic reconnaissance and strike asset in development now could still be years from operational fielding, or it may already be in service. Recall that the F-117 Nighthawk was flying in 1981 but not officially revealed until 1988, a span of seven years during which the program remained hidden. While media has changed since the 1980s and it is more difficult to keep a program secret today, the possibility still exists that the program is much farther advanced than publicly revealed.

The F-117 sub-scale prototypes, some called “Have Blue”, were secretly flown from Palmdale without detection. (Photo: USAF)

As early as 1985 a line item appeared in the U.S. defense budget for $85 million USD attributed to a project called “Aurora”. By 1987 that allocation had bloated to over $2.3 billion for the same project. Some reports suggest the U.S. Air Force was working on an SR-71 replacement as early as 1988.

Subsequent reports in credible media like Jane’s Defense and Aviation Week & Space Technology have featured accounts of hearing and seeing unidentified aircraft in the region of the Nellis test ranges.

Another famous sighting happened over the North Sea in November 1991. Scottish petroleum engineer Chris Gibson, who was also serving in the British Royal Observer Corps according to reports, was working on the offshore oil rig Galveston Key. Gibson, an experienced and trained professional aircraft spotter, saw “The shape of a pure isosceles triangle” flying behind a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft in formation with two F-111s. The aircraft were sighted in the 6A air-to-air refueling zone according to reports. Gibson’s accounting was substantiated by another witness, lasted a significant amount of time, and has been repeatedly analyzed, but never explained.

The Chris Gibson/North Sea 1991 sighting suggested an early possible sighting of an SR-71 replacement. The sighting has never been explained. (Photo: Chris Gibson)

Trying to organize the sightings and information we have of any possible new hypersonic low-observable reconnaissance/strike aircraft with the mission requirements and global strategic need for aerial intelligence still leaves massive gaps between what we know and what is possible according to accounts, but within this massive gap of the unknown exists plenty of room for a real project that, when we eventually do hear about it, will undoubtedly be one of the most sensational defense and aviation stories of this century.

Top image: Distributed briefing slide showing conceptual image of SR-72 with SR-71. (Photo: USAF)

This Photo Shows A U.S. Air Force C-5M Galaxy Landing in St. Maarten For The Very First Time To Support Hurricane Irma Relief Operations

A giant C-5 Galaxy landed at Princess Juliana International Airport in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Maho Beach, located on the final approach to the Princess Juliana International Airport’s runway, is one of the world’s most famous spots for aviation enthusiasts and photographers who can take breathtaking shots of aircraft, including wide-bodies, about to land in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.

If you look for images of aircraft landing at St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) online, you’ll literally find thousand close-up photographs showing planes flying extremely low over bystanders at Maho Beach.

Unfortunately, St. Maarten and its remarkable beaches have been almost destroyed by Hurricane Irma last month.  Although the airport was “hit hard, with what appeared to be sand washed up to parts of the main terminal and the building’s roof extensively damaged,” and remain closed to commercial operations, the runway at SXM was made available to aircraft supporting the relief operations on Sept. 16.

Whilst the very first aircraft to land in St. Maarten after Irma was a KLM Boeing 747-400, one of the rarest jets to operate from the Caribbean airport was probably the U.S. Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy 86-0020 that landed at SXM on Sept. 18. Photographer Marseno Bremer was there and took the stunning shot of the aircraft over Maho Beach that you can find in this post.

Noteworthy, the C-5M that landed at Princess Juliana Airport was the same involved in a nose gear up landing at Rota Air Base in Spain in May 2017.

[Updated] U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy Performs Nose Gear Up Landing At Rota Air Base in Spain

As a consequence of a second malfunction of a C-5’s nose landing gear (occurred on Jul. 15), the U.S. Air Force grounded 18 Galaxy cargo planes based at Dover Air Force Base (out of 56 flown by the Air Mobility Command) pending further investigation, on Jul. 18. The grounding was lifted for 5 C-5s at the beginning of August.

Image credit: Marseno Bremer

Six F-22 Raptor jets Have Deployed To RAF Lakenheath, UK

Six U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors have deployed to Europe as part of the European Deterrence Initiative.

Six U.S. Air Force Raptor jets, belonging to the 27th Fighter Squadron and 94th Fighter Squadron, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, have deployed to RAF Lakenheath, UK, on Oct. 8, using radio callsign Trend 11-16.

At the time of writing it’s still unclear whether 6 additional F-22s, expected in the next few days as they return stateside from their deployment to the Middle East to support Operation Inherent Resolve, will remain in the UK along with the other jets (their callsign will be Trend 21-26).

The stealth multirole aircraft that will remain in the UK will be involved in a FTD (Flying Training Deployment) to conduct flying activity with other U.S. aircraft based in Europe as well as regional NATO allies.

According to the official USAF release “while in the European theater, the F-22s will also forward deploy from the U.K. to other NATO bases to maximize training opportunities, demonstrate our steadfast commitment to NATO Allies and deter any actions that destabilize regional security. This FTD is fully funded by the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI).”

One of the Raptors that have deployed to the UK on Oct. 8, 2017. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force).

The last time U.S. F-22s deployed to Europe was in Spring 2016, when the 95th FS completed a historic deployment to RAF Lakenheath with 12 stealth jets in what was at the time the largest Raptor deployment in Europe.

During the deployment, part of their Global Response Force training, the F-22s performed several training sorties (usually two waves were launched each day, one at around 08.00AM, the second in the early afternoon): the Raptors took part in exercise Iron Hand 16-3, conducted air training with all three RAF Lakenheath fighter squadrons and RAF Typhoons.

The F-22 also had the chance to pay visit to some NATO countries: Romania, Lithuania and also performed a flyover for the 100th anniversary of the Lafayette Escadrille in Paris. Last but not least, the F-22s had a chance to practice low-level flying in the famous Mach Loop.

The F-22s landing at RAF Lakenheath on Oct. 8, 2017. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

 

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North Korea Threatens To Shoot Down U.S. Bombers Even If They Are Flying In International Airspace

Pyongyang could target planes even when they are not flying in North Korean airspace, North Korea’s Foreign Minister told reporters.

On Sept. 25, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho accused President Donald Trump of declaring war, saying that gives the regime the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down U.S. strategic bombers, even if they are not flying in North Korean airspace.

The new comment comes amid growing tensions and rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington: on Saturday Sept. 23, hours after Kim Jong Un said that North Korea would soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, along with U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea, in what was the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.

Then, Trump said the North Korean regime “won’t be around much longer” if North Korea’s Foreign Minister “echoes thoughts” of dictator Kim Jong Un, referred to as “Little Rocket Man” by Trump:


According to Ri Yong Ho, Trump’s comment was a declaration of war, that gives Pyongyang the right to shoot down U.S. bombers.

Whether North Korea would be able to shoot down a B-1 flying in international airspace or not is hard to say. The Lancers and their accompanying packages (that have also included stealthy U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs) are theoretically very well defended and rely on the heavy electronic support provided by a large array of assets that continuously operate at safe distance from North Korea (or, in case of satellites, literally above it) to pinpoint Pyongyang forces, to collect signals required to update the enemy’s EOB (Electronic Order of Battle), and to keep an eye on all the regime’s moves.

However, North Korea’s philosophy of self-reliance, the use of road-mobile launchers, underground bunkers as well as hidden shelters could create some hassle even to the world’s most advanced air armada.

Considered the status of its geriatric Air Force, mainly made of Soviet-era aircraft, North Korea would only rely on Surface to Air Missile (SAM) batteries to attack a B-1, provided the bomber is well inside the missile engagement zone.

Indeed, North Korea operates a mix of Soviet SAMs, including the S-75 (NATO reporting name SA-2), S-125 (SA-3), S-200 (SA-5) and Kvadrat (SA-6), some of those not only are in good condition, but were probably upgraded locally. In addition to these systems, North Korea is also fielding an indigenous SAM system, dubbed KN-06 or Pongae-5, said to be equivalent to a Russian S-300P (SA-10) with a range of up to 150 km.

KN-06 SAM fired during a test on April 2, 2016. © North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) / Reuters

Although, individually, these systems can’t pose a significant threat to a modern strategic bomber flying off the North Korean coasts, combined and employed in a coordinated way by trained operators, they can be particularly tough to deal with, especially in case they are faced “head-on” by attackers intruding into the enemy airspace protected by many layers of mobile and fixed SAM batteries. However, should the need arise, U.S. forces would probably neutralize most (if not all) of the fixed batteries with long-range stand-off weapons before any attack plane enters the North Korean airspace.

By the way, this is not the first time Pyongyang threatens the B-1. A recent propaganda video showed, among the other things, the fake destruction of a Lancer bomber…