Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

U.S. Air Force EC-130H Disrupts ISIL Communications in Iraq

In an uncharacteristic media release by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft have been reported as active in support of anti-ISIL operations in Iraq.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified version of the versatile C-130 platform that was conceived as a transport but has been modified for missions such as search and rescue, gunship and even bomber. The EC-130H version conducts various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption along with additional undisclosed capabilities that may include surveillance and jamming of cellular and other wireless signals.

In an official release published on the U.S. Air Force official website, Lt. Col. Josh Koslov, squadron commander of the 43rd Expeditionary Electronic Attack Squadron, is quoted as saying, “When the Compass Call is up on station supporting our Iraqi allies we are denying ISIL’s ability to command and control their forces.” Koslov emphasized, “If you can’t talk, you can’t fight.”

Published specifications for the EC-130H say the aircraft employs a 13-14 person crew. In the release published by the U.S. Air Force there is mention of linguists on board to “Help us efficiently find, prioritize and target ISIL.” Sources are also quoted as saying onboard linguists “help the electronic warfare officer make jamming decisions in order to provide the effects desired by the ground force commander.”

ISIL insurgent forces rely heavily on cell phones for communication, including the command detonation of improvised explosive devices. According to an article published in January by Fightersweep.com, “The EC-130H can detect all of these, and jam them selectively. ISIL has similar preferences in communications gear and in the midst of combat they have found, like the Taliban, there is no solution to the problems created by a EC-130H overhead.”

Since the EC-130H’s role in combating Daesh through signals intelligence and interdiction is largely non-attributable and non-lethal area commanders can use it with impunity. There is no risk of collateral damage as with bombs and missiles that directly destroy targets.

In October, a top-ranking U.S. Air Force official announced that a small enemy drone controlled by ISIS had been downed by an Electronic Attack aircraft asset: although no specific type was mentioned, few USAF platforms other than the Compass Call are known to have the ability to use Electronic Warfare to disrupt the signal between the UAV and its control station.

The EC-130H’s numbers were briefly threatened prior to 2016 according to a report in the Arizona Daily Independent, a newspaper published near the EC-130H’s home base at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. The report cited “a proposal to retire seven EC-130H Compass Call electronic attack fleet airplanes stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.” According to the ADI news report, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 prevented the retirement of these aircraft citing the critical importance of their mission to “protect our air men and women from sophisticated electronic attacks in conflicts across the Middle East such as Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as against potential threats in the Pacific and Europe.”

Few specifics of the EC-130H’s mission are available publicly. It is probable the EC-130H operates partially in support of classified U.S. special operations teams in the region, and that these teams accompany Iraqi forces in the anti-ISIL campaign. These teams’ additional roles likely include targeting for U.S. and coalition airstrikes.

The EC-130H is probably teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate.

The release of information about EC-130H operations by the Air Force, however vague it may be, is significant since the EC-130 overall force is so small, consisting of only 14 aircraft according to the Air Force. Additionally, because of its classified mission and capabilities, little is seen in the media about the EC-130H role, making this information release about the aircraft noteworthy.

 

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U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth jets to fly out of northern Australia amid South China Sea tensions

Starting in 2017, Australia will host U.S. military aircraft, including F-22 Raptors, to maintain a “credible combat power” in the region and send a convincing message to potential aggressors.

The Royal Australian Air Force will start joint training with U.S. F-22 Raptor aircraft over Australian territory next year.

This is one of the effects of the agreement signed by Adm. Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Australian defense head Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.

Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Harris said that the U.S. and Australia “are exploring greater integration of fifth generation fighter deployments to Australia and plan to see significant activities in 2017.”

The RAAF is acquiring knowledge on 5th gen. aircraft thanks to the involvement in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II program, but the Joint Strike Fighter won’t enter active service with the Royal Australian Air Force until next decade: the first F-35A will arrive in Australia in 2018 and the first squadron, No 3 Squadron, will be operational in 2021.  All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.

Since the F-22 is the only fifth generation fighter already in service in good numbers, the U.S. Air Force has a plan “to bring down some F-22s to work with Australia to demonstrate the airplane and some of the unique maintenance and other aspects of fifth generation airframes,” Harris said.

Although Raptors have already visited Australia in the past to attend airshows, the announced deployment of the world’s most advanced multi-role aircraft in the north of the country would also have a deterrence purpose: according to Harris, maintaining a “credible combat power” in the region will send a convincing message to potential aggressors.

Like China, whose island-building in the South China Sea poses a threat to the freedom of navigation and overflight.

The presence of F-22s in northern Australia follows similar deployments to Japan: the USAF has started rotating fighters to Pacific Command bases in March 2004 “to maintain a prudent deterrent against threats to regional security and stability” and in January 2016 a dozen Raptors were deployed to Yokota, near Tokyo, to “promote” stability following North Korea’s nuclear test.

The deployment of a handful of stealth jets some 2,000 nautical miles from the South China Sea is rather symbolic unless it is considered as the part of a wider military build-up around the troubled waters of the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater.

On Aug. 9, 2016 three B-2 Spirit bombers with the 509th Bomb Wing, have deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, to conduct extended deterrence operations in the region. B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews) have also been deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers regularly conduct dual carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific and sometimes also in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea. Last June, two nuclear-powered flattops operated simultaneously in the area, working also alongside two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress (bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam in a maritime attack training sortie. In the same period, Washington also deployed to the Philippines the first temporary detachment of Navy EA-18G Growlers with the ability to perform both electronic escort missions on U.S. ships and spyplanes frequently shadowed by Chinese spyplanes or intelligence gathering ships and Electronic Attack missions against Chinese radars on the disputed islands.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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The story of the KC-135 tankers that saved another KC-135 flying for 13.5 hours in support of a CAS mission over Afghanistan

After being unexpectedly requested to refuel a CAS (Close Air Support) aircraft targeting a high-level enemy leader, a KC-135 found itself “below bingo.”

Although they usually offload fuel to other aircraft, aerial refuelers may have to take gas from other tankers to extend their “on station time” or to be able to return to their destination, as happened some months ago to a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker over Afghanistan.

The U.S. tanker was in fact involved to a really long mission, so much so it had to be refueled by other KC-135s three times.

According to Lt. Steve Hartig, 350th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, the original task was to refuel two tactical jets flying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Nothing special then, besides an initial contact with another KC-135 to get some fuel and extend the mission.

“This was my first deployment as a receiver-qualified pilot,” said Capt. Kirk Evans, 384th ARS pilot in a USAF release. “Receiving fuel from a tanker [at a high altitude was pretty challenging]. The air is thinner, and I had less control authority over the aircraft because the engines are less responsive.”

After completing the operation, the Stratotanker returned to its racetrack and continue its refueling mission.

In accordance with the original task, it refueled two aircraft but before heading back to its home base, it got a radio call to relocate and potentially refuel a CAS aircraft needing assistance because an alert refueling plane would not make it in time.

The receiver requested assistance and the KC-135 rushed to help. But the AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operation was not previously planned and the tactical scenario as well as the type of aircraft made for an “unorthodox situation.”

The two aircraft made contact far below the surrounding peaks and in a descent, to compensate for the receiver’s slower speed (read below for more about the CAS aircraft.)

To make things more complicated, the receiving crew informed the Stratotanker that they needed 18,000 pounds of fuel whereas the KC-135 had only 7,000 pounds before going “below bingo”, that is to say, below the fuel state required to return home.

Still, the tanker offloaded the requested amount of fuel to the receiver so that it could successfully continue its mission: going after a high-level enemy leader on the ground.

Now, the KC-135 was 12,000 pounds “below bingo.”

Unable to return home the Stratotanker aircrew started contemplating other options, the first of those was diverting to a nearby airfield. There were two airbases within their reach: one was pretty unsafe, as it was getting attacked frequently, whereas the other one was under a thunderstorm.

“We were authorized to divert to a closer air base when we were notified there happened to be another tanker on their way that had a little extra gas,” said Evans.

Hence, the KC-135s headed towards each other for a second “buddy refueling” operation: the “below bingo” KC-135 received enough gas to meet the alert Stratotanker halfway, so it didn’t need to divert.

After a third “buddy refuel,” the Stratotanker was eventually able to return back to its deployment base after 13 and half hours!

The efforts of the KC-135 crew paid off, enabling two different missions, the second performed by the CAS aircraft that was able to “terminate” a high-level enemy leader.

Note: Although the U.S. Air Force did not disclose the type of receiver involved in the CAS mission, based on the “speed difference” and altitude, it is safe to assume it was an AC-130 gunship.

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Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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The F-4 Phantom II, in the QF-4 Aerial Target variant, performs final display before retiring from USAF

After more than 50 years of service, the F-4 Phantom II is about to be retired by the U.S. Air Force.

The final F-4 Phantom appearance at an airshow while in USAF service occurred during Nellis Air Force Base’s Aviation Nation air show, on Nov. 12 and 13.

QF-4E 74-1638, piloted by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and Jim Harkins, pilots from Holloman AFB, New Mexico, flew at the show on both days, making several passes in afterburner to the delight of more than 295,000 spectators from around the world.

The photographs in this post were taken by our reader Ken Lilly at Nellis AFB during Aviation Nation 2016.

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“[The QF-4 retiring] is bittersweet,” said King, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 commander in a U.S. Air Force release. “It’s been a phenomenal workhorse for our country for years. When the military revitalized the aircraft after retiring them in 1997, it gave them a second lease on life.”

The aircraft have flown as unmanned aerial targets for several DoD and foreign military sales customers testing next generation weapons.

“Just as service members come and go in their military careers, unfortunately so do aircraft,” said Harkins. “It’s getting harder and harder to do the job that it’s supposed to do [based on new technology].

“It’s too old to go as high and as fast or as many [gravitational forces] as the customers need it to so they can proper test equipment,” he added.

Air Combat Command declared initial operational capability for its replacement, the QF-16 full-scale aerial target, that has been flying with the 82nd ATRS, based at Tyndall AFB, Florida, since September 2014, on Sept. 23: therefore the QF-4 flown by the 82nd ATRS Det. 1 at Holloman AFB is being retired on Dec. 21.

Whilst unmanned operations ended in September, the last unmanned mission in a threat representative configuration was flown on Aug. 17, 2016, “against” an F-35 Lightning II.

During that sortie, the Vietnam-era remotely piloted aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). However, the aircraft was not destroyed in the test (read more about the final sortie “against” two AIM-120Cs fired by a Joint Strike Fighter here.)

A QF-4 Aerial Target lands on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during the Aviation Nation air show on Nov. 11, 2016. The QF-4 was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Detachment 1 commander, at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

A QF-4 Aerial Target lands on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during the Aviation Nation air show on Nov. 11, 2016. The QF-4 was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Detachment 1 commander, at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

Interestingly, on  Oct. 25 two USAF McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II’s made an appearance through the famous “Star Wars Canyon” (Jedi Transition) in Death Valley, CA, during in transit from NAS Point Mugu, CA to Hill AFB, UT.

The aircraft, piloted by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and by Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim “WAM” Harkins, made a couple of aggressive passes through the canyon before continuing their journey to Hill.

The F-4 is one of the most successful multi-role fighter aircraft ever produced. Over 5,000 Phantoms of various models were built and served in combat with a variety of Air Forces around the world. In the U.S., the F-4 served with the US Navy beginning in 1961, followed by the USMC and the USAF.

The aircraft remained in service with the USAF through 1996 when it was retired.

Many Phantoms were converted to service as manned and unmanned targets for weapons training with various USAF and DoD programs, including the White Sands Missile Range.

But the final chapter in a long and successful career in the U.S. Air Force is approaching. At least, other air arms around the world still operate the mighty Phantom, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, that has also used the F-4E in the Air War in Syria; the Turkish Air Force, whose F-4s have had a role in the coup attempt last July; South Korea’s ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force), that has also employed the Phantoms to stage Elephant Walks “against” the North; and the Hellenic Air Force.

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Image credit: Ken Lilly unless otherwise specified.

 

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This photo of an A-10 sporting hundreds of bomb markings proves the Warthog has been pretty active fighting Daesh!

A-10 Thunderbolts from 124th Fighter Wing have just returned from deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve: they brought back one aircraft with an impressive amount of bomb markings.

Since Nov. 17, 2014 when the U.S. Air Force moved a squadron-sized element of A-10C Thunderbolt aircraft from Bagram, Afghanistan, to Ahmed al Jaber airbase, in Kuwait, to join the fight against ISIS, the Hog (from various USAF units) has played an important role supporting Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR): it has carried out about one-third of the overall air strikes attacking the IS militants causing great losses and by deterring them from above using its GAU-8 Avenger a 30 mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon and PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions).

Among the Thunderbolt units that have taken part to the air war against ISIS there is the 190th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, 124th Fighter Wing (Idaho ANG), from Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho.

The “Skullbangers” have returned home from a 6-month combat deployment in support of OIR on Oct. 24, 2016. The return of the Idaho ANG from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, is featured in the latest issue of The Beacon, official newsletter of the 124th Fighter Wing.

Indeed, as pointed out by the team at Warthog News, a FB page (worth a like) posting tons of interesting A-10 stuff, the November 2016 issue of The Beacon includes some really interesting photographs, including the ones of an A-10 decorated with many bomb markings.

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Bomb and kill markings are very well-known tradition in military aviation.

In May 2016, we spotted JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) bomb silhouettes on one of the F-22s belonging to the 95th FS from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, after one rotation to the UAE to support Operation Inherent Resolve

Last year, in Syria, Russian Su-34s  sported red star silhouettes to mark 10 air strikes, whilst EA-18G Growlers of VAQ-137 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt got unique kill markings, showing Electronic Attack support as well as cellular jamming missions.

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BTW, let us know if you have an idea about the type of bombs the above A-10 bomb markings represent…

H/T Warthog News. Image credit: 124th FW

 

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