Tag Archives: U.S. Marine Corps

Here Are The First Photographs Of U.S. Air Force C-17 and Marine Corps KC-130J Operating From New U.S. Airfield in Northern Syria

U.S. Air Forces Central Command has just released some photographs from an “undisclosed location”: geolocation proves they are the first from a recently-built airbase in northern Syria.

CENTCOM has just published some interesting photographs of U.S. assets supporting Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. In particular, the images depict U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J operating from an austere runway at what the official captions refer to as an “undisclosed location”.

Here is one of those images:

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130 Hercules departs from an undisclosed location, June 22, 2018. The C-130 transported personnel and supplies to another location in the area of operations in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). In conjunction with partner forces, CJTF-OIR’s mission is to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and set conditions to increase regional stability. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

However, the new images, taken between Jun. 20 and 23, 2018 and released by CENTCOM Public Affairs earlier today, were immediately geolocated by the OSINT investigator and famous Twitter user Samir (@obretix).

Therefore, those you can find in this post are, to our knowledge, the very first photographs showing operations at a new U.S./Coalition military base in Syria’s northeastern province of Al-Hasakah whose construction works were exposed by OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analysis of satellite pictures in 2017 and completion appeared to be imminent or just finished at the end of April 2018:

 

Another U.S. airfield is located in northern Syria: Sarrin. The base was built in 2016 and the first aircraft appeared to operate from there in July 2017. Here below you can find a tweet with some recent images from there:

Noteworthy, the images released today of the operations at the new airfield in Syria show an interesting KC-130J. This airframe (serial 167110), whose main role is to act as an aerial refueler, has a pretty career: back in 2010, the aircraft deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was fitted with what was been dubbed the Harvest Hawk weapons system. Along with the traditional air-to-air refueling, and cargo and troop transportation tasks, the KC-130J from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California carried out several Close Air Support missions earning many mission markings firing AGM-114K and Griffin missiles.

A U.S. Marine Corps C-130J Hercules flies over an undisclosed location after departure, June 22, 2018. The C-130 was transporting personnel and supplies to another location in Combined Joint Task Force’s area of operations. The KC-130J Hercules supports expeditionary operations by providing air-to-air refueling, rapid ground refueling and logistic support to operating forces. Tactical transportation of personnel or cargo includes aerial delivery or austere landing zone operations. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

H/T @obretix for the help in writing this article

Check Out This Stunning Shot Of Trump’s MV-22 Osprey Escort Over New York City

“Green Tops” MV-22 osprey tilt-rotor aircraft fly the President’s supporting staff and Secret Service agents.

On May 23, Donald Trump traveled to New York City in one of the Presidential VH-3D helicopters operated by the U.S. Marine Corps HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One).

Here’s a video of the Marine One helicopter flying over NYC the POTUS shared on his favorite social media:

The clip was probably filmed by one of the escorting U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. In fact, “Marine One” (when President of the U.S. travels aboard the VH-3D or any other chopper operated by HMX-1, the helicopter uses the radio callsign “Marine One” by which the aircraft is known) was escorted by green-painted MV-22 Ospreys (also referred to as “Green Tops”) that fly the White House Staff during the President’s travels.

The tilt-rotor aircraft fly also the Secret Service agents that follow “Marine One” and take care of its valuable passengers in case the helicopter goes down due to a failure.

Usually, at least two or three Ospreys accompany “Marine One”. For instance, when last year Trump traveled to Virginia’s Newport News Shipbuilding facility to visit pre-commissioning unit USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN78), the two VH-3Ds were escorted by three MV-22s.

Both the “White Tops” (VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns), that usually fly the POTUS and accompanying VIPs at home and abroad as part of the Executive Flight Detachment, and the “Green Tops” (12x MV-22 Ospreys) that fly the supporting staff, are based at Quantico, Virginia, south of Washington DC.

The helicopters of Executive Flight Detachment actually operate extensively out of an alert facility at Naval Support Facility Anacostia, in Washington DC, much closer to the White House than Quantico.

A stunning WH photo (the top one in this article), taken by photographer @AndreaHanks, showing two VH-3Ds and two escorting MV-22s (a third Osprey was probably the camera ship), was shared on Twitter by CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

Top image: WH photo by Andrea Hanks

U.S. Marines Request Contractors To Provide Russian-Built Mi-24 Hind Attack Helicopters

Russian Mi-24 Attack or Mi-17 Transport Helicopters Could Augment Training Authenticity.

A report in the Marine Corps Times from Friday, April 27 by journalist Kyle Rempfer revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force Training Command has filed a solicitation for contractors to provide Russian-built Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter or an Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter to serve as accurate opposing forces threat simulation aircraft.

The aircraft would be equipped with electronic tracking pods for integration into simulated combat exercises at the MCAS Yuma Range and Training Area (RTA), a large training facility in the Arizona desert. The Yuma Range and Training Area accurately replicates current and potential threat environments throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Rempfer’s report for the Marine Corps Times, the solicitation read in part,
“The [Mi-24] attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat creating a realistic, dissimilar and credible opposing force.”

In their potential role as a technically realistic opposing force flying against U.S. Marine ground forces in training the helicopters would accurately replicate the threat capabilities of many potential adversary forces. While the Mi-24 attack helicopter is primarily an air-to-ground attack helicopter the report also mentioned a potential role for any Russian helicopters acquired or contracted as providing a simulated opposing force capability against U.S. Marine Helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft to possibly include the UH-1Y Venom, AH-1Z Super Cobra and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

The U.S. Marine Training Command’s request went on to read, “The scope of this effort is to provide familiarization of flight characteristics, capabilities and limitations of the foreign adversary rotary-wing and propeller driven aircraft,” according to the solicitation. “This will be accomplished by having accessibility to two foreign adversary contractor-provided aircraft that shall participate in certain exercise events as part of a realistic opposing force.”

The request for the opposing forces helicopters will include up to five annual training operations and a maximum of 40 total hours of flight time in VFR (daylight, fair weather Visual Flight Rules) conditions. Of further interest is a notation indicating interest in fixed wing aircraft. Russian fixed wing aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-27 have already been observed and photographed flying over the Nellis Training Range in Nevada.

A privately owned Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter at Nellis AFB, Nevada. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

In the combined air/ground combat role most commonly performed by the U.S. Marine Corps one relevant adversary aircraft for threat simulation may include the Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO codename “Frogfoot”), although no specific information indicates an interest in the Su-25 from the U.S. Marines.

A remarkable 57 countries currently use the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, built at the Mil Helicopter Plant in Moscow, Russia. The aircraft is infamous in western nations for its rugged survivability and significant combat capability. The request for actual Mi-24 Hind helicopters seems to acknowledge the type’s unique and significant capabilities as a potential adversary.

There are currently at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters privately owned in the U.S. by the Lancaster Air Museum in Lancaster, Texas. The aircraft fly frequently at events and airshows around the country.

How Social Media May Drive Our Perception of Military Aviation Safety

The Luke AFB F-16 Emergency Landing, the Tragic Thunderbird Crash, The CH-53 Accident: Why (Does It Seem Like) So Many Military Aircraft Are Crashing?

Why does it seem like so many military aircraft been crashing? It’s a relevant question given the attention to military aircraft accidents around the world this year. Is there an increase in accidents in military aviation? Or, are other factors influencing our perception of how many aircraft accidents there actually are?

Pilots and aviation safety experts will tell you there is no singular cause for all military aviation accidents. In an April 25, 2018 interview in the Washington Examiner, Capt. Sarah Burns, a Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon told reporter Jamie McIntyre, “Every mishap is unique, and we have not found a causal, statically accurate link between readiness and mishaps.”

While pilot shortages and aging aircraft dominate the conversation in the U.S., pilots often say there are as many reasons for accidents as there are accidents. If you demand a singular explanation for why aviation accidents happen it’s in this famous, often paraphrased quote attributed to Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London, from the early 1930’s:

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

Capt. Lamplugh’s prescient quote summarizes three separate contributors to aviation accidents: carelessness, often sanitized as “pilot error”; incapacity, in air traffic control, pilot training and other technical contributors; and finally neglect, as in infrastructure and maintenance.

In the rush-to-judgement popular news and social media space, pundits try to focus on a single convenient narrative to explain accidents. There is no convenient single reason for military aviation accidents.

One factor that has contributed to an increase in awareness of military aviation accidents is an evolution in media. Our perception of how many accidents there are has no doubt been influenced by a factor we can refer to as “media velocity”, the speed and volume at which information reaches us in the social media age.

Reasons for recent military crashes are conflicting as depicted in internet resources as evidence by this capture of search results on information about military aviation accidents. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

After a U.S. Air Force F-16 performed an emergency landing this week in Arizona and the pilot ejected, the full details of the incident were posted on social media, including intercepted radio transmissions of first responders, with two hours. Detailed information about the incident was available through social media and blogs hours before less detailed, official information was released. In the case of this week’s F-16 accident, the sources and information have so far proved to be accurate. That is not always the case, and the online banter about causes for aviation accidents seldom waits for the official investigation to reveal its findings.

Social media has created faster, more frequent reporting of military aviation accidents but is not always accurate. (Photo: via Facebook)

With international crashes, such as the March 6, 2018 crash of a Russian Antonov An-26 with 39 fatalities in Syria, there used to be reduced awareness of military aviation accidents prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the arrival of social media. Every country lost military aircraft, but not every country reported losses with the transparency of the United States.

When pundits point to a single factor in a perceived increase in aviation accidents in the U.S. the pilot shortage inevitably comes up. While it is a mistake to make an “A leads to B” connection between pilot shortages and aircraft accidents, there is no denying the U.S. military pilot shortage is real.
We spoke to a U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. whose call sign is “Burn Clapper” at Holloman AFB in August, 2017. He had been in command of the 54th Fighter Group since May, 2017. During a media briefing he told TheAviationist.com, “I’m supposed to have 24 instructor pilots in my squadron, and I have 13 now.”

When we asked Burn Clapper about the reasons for the fighter pilot shortage he said, “A few years back, there was a time when we had as many fighter pilots as we needed. We only produced guys coming in for as many guys who were leaving – at the rate that they were leaving then. We only made fighter pilots for who was leaving then, maybe about 400 a year – that’s a guess.”

Burn Clapper went on to explain, “Our pilots graduate now with a 10-year commitment. They have been back and forth to combat over the last five years. The economy is good now. Now they have options.”

The U.S. Air Force publishes a database of aircraft accidents. The Air Force Safety Center Aviation Statistics database (http://www.safety.af.mil) contains specific information detailing USAF accidents. As with any spreadsheet analysis, you can package the data in different ways to produce a different statistical outcome.

One interpretation of the Air Force Safety Center Aviation Statistics database is that 2015 had a higher number of reported accidents than 2016 and 2017.
Another standout metric is the number of accidents in the single engine F-16. The statistics for Current Fiscal Year-to-Date, Previous Fiscal Year-to-Date and Previous Fiscal Year show a total number of F-16 Class A accidents higher than any other aircraft type. There are several contributing factors to F-16 accidents that include the large number of the aircraft in service with the USAF (951 F-16s in USAF service across all versions according to Wikipedia), its role as a high performance tactical combat aircraft, the age of the aircraft and that the F-16 is a single engine aircraft with no engine redundancy. By contrast however, the single engine, exclusively single-seat F-35A Lighting II has not had a single accident in flight with the USAF since its initial inclusion with the Air Force on August 2, 2016. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a program has had a remarkably incident-free development, testing and operational introduction since it began, budget concerns aside, there has not been a single crash of an F-35.

A contrasting view of military aviation accident statistics was presented by the Military Times in an April 8, 2018 analysis by journalist Tara Copp.

Copp wrote that, “Through a six-month investigation, the Military Times found that accidents involving all of the military’s manned fighter, bomber, helicopter and cargo warplanes rose nearly 40 percent from fiscal years 2013 to 2017. It’s doubled for some aircraft, like the Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets. At least 133 service members were killed in those fiscal year 2013-2017 mishaps, according to data obtained by Military Times.”

Military Times journalist Tara Copp arrives at an interesting conclusion in her article when it is overlaid with the USAF Safety Center Aviation Statistics database. Copp revealed that accidents with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets were much higher than with other aircraft in Navy and Marine service. This finding aligns with the statistical survey of USAF F-16s emerging as the highest frequency accident types. Similar factors exist with the Navy and Marine F/A-18s.

The last of the older Hornets are being phased out now in favor of the newer F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The aircraft is mostly a single-seat combat plane often flown at low altitude and in the high-performance regime. Unlike the Air Force’s F-16 though, the F/A-18 is a twin-engine aircraft, making engine failures a less critical incident over the entire performance envelope compared to the single-engine F-16, where any engine failure is serious.

Journalists like Tara Copp have pointed to several factors in their reported increase in military aviation accident frequency. Copp wrote that, “The rise is tied, in part, to the massive congressional budget cuts of 2013. Since then, it’s been intensified by non-stop deployments of warplanes and their crews, an exodus of maintenance personnel and deep cuts to pilots’ flight-training hours.” She went on to quote retired USAF General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle as telling her, “We are reaping the benefits — or the tragedies — that we got into back in sequestration.” Retired General Hawk was referring to the 2013 defense budget cuts resulting from the U.S. government sequester, a temporary freeze on much of U.S. government spending to avert a monetary crisis. Tara Copp went on quote Ret. Gen. Herbert Carlisle as saying “The sharp increase in mishap rates is actually a lagging indicator. By the time you’re having accidents, and the accident rates are increasing, then you’ve already gone down a path.” Then-General Carlisle led USAF Air Combat Command until 2017. The retired general told her, “If we stay on the current track … there is the potential to lose lives.”

High performance combat training in single engine jet aircraft is inherently more hazardous than flying crew-operated multi-engine aircraft in a transport and support role. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

No matter which narrative you chose to explain recent military aviation accidents one truth does prevail about flying high performance aircraft that are intended for combat; tragedies are an ominous and common companion to aerial warfare, and recent events have been a stern reminder of this truth.

U.S. Marines Suffer Losses Over Last Two Days in Super Stallion and Harrier Crashes

CH-53E Super Stallion Crashes in California: Four Casualties Reported. Harrier Lost in Africa, Pilot Ejected.

The U.S. Marine 3rd Aircraft Wing has reported that a CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter has crashed at approximately 1435 Hrs. local north of the Mexico/California border on Apr. 3, 2018. Four fatalities are being reported. The aircraft was on a training mission near the city of El Centro, California when it went down.

No cause for the crash has been reported. A crash investigation is reported to be underway. Identities of the four crash victims have not yet been released pending official notification of families.

The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest heavy lift helicopter in the U.S. arsenal. It is a three-engine aircraft with a lift capacity in excess of fifteen tons and uses a large, seven-blade main rotor. Developed from the U.S. Navy’s CH-53 Sea Stallion that first flew in 1966, the U.S. Marine CH-53E Super Stallion was introduced in 1981 as the CH-53 Sea Stallion.

Other notable losses in the history of the CH-53 heavy lift helicopter family include a total of four CH-53s lost during the May 1975 Mayaguez Incident. Three of the helicopters were shot down by Khmer Rouge guerillas resulting in the deaths of 10 Marines, 2 Navy Corpsmen and 2 Air Force crewmen. A fourth CH-53 from the 21st Special Operations Squadron, aircraft #68-10933, using the callsign “Knife 13” went down in an accident while transiting to U Tapao Airbase in Thailand in support of the operation, killing all 23 onboard. Another early version of the aircraft, the U.S. Navy RH-53D, became infamous during the failed Iran hostage rescue mission in 1980 when it collided with another aircraft in a sandstorm, killing 8 U.S. servicemen.

Early incidents with heavy lift helicopters including the CH-53 family underscored the need for the development of advanced tilt-rotor aircraft like the current MV-22 Osprey.

Tuesday’s fatal helicopter crash in California came just before a USMC AV-8B Harrier aircraft crashed that same day in Africa. The pilot of a USMC Harrier ejected from his aircraft and was reported to have walked to an ambulance for medical care according to a report on USNI News by Sam LaGrone and Megan Eckstein.

An official statement about the accident indicated, “Doctors said the pilot was in stable condition and being evaluated at Camp Lemonnier’s expeditionary medical facility.” Camp Lemonnier is a U.S. expeditionary base located in Djibouti, Africa.

The Harrier aircraft that went down was attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The accident occurred during takeoff from Djibouti Ambouli International Airport just after 4 p.m. local time, according to a statement from the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

According to fleet spokesman U.S. Navy Commander Bill Urban, the AV-8B Harrier that crashed was assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The aircraft flew from the assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) and was participating in the “Alligator Daggar” tactical exercise that began this week in the region.

The McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier is an advanced, U.S. version of the original British V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) Harrier “jump jet” dating back to 1967. The aircraft is currently being replaced in U.S. Marine and other services by the F-35B STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.