Tag Archives: U.S. Marine Corps

U.S. MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crash lands in Yemen during Special OPS raid on Al Qaeda

A U.S. Marine Corps Osprey that was supporting the first known counterterrorism operation under President Trump crash-landed in Yemen. It was later destroyed by U.S. raid.

Early in the morning on Jan. 29, one American Special Operations commando was killed and three others were injured in a fierce firefight with Al Qaeda fighters targeted by a predawn raid against the AQ headquarters in Yemen.

The surprise attack was carried out by commandos from the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 in Bayda Province who killed 14 Qaeda militants in what is the first confirmed anti-terror operation under Trump presidency.

It’s not clear what aircraft were supporting the raid; what has been confirmed is that a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft called in to evacuate the wounded American soldiers crash landed, injuring 2 service members (1 according to other sources).

The tilt-rotor aircraft was intentionally destroyed in place by a U.S. raid once it was determined that it could not leave the crash landing site.

This was not the first time a U.S. helo supporting a Special Operation crash lands.

On May 2, 2011, one of the helicopters used by the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden crash landed near OBL’s compound at Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Military on board the helicopter escaped safely on another chopped while the downed one was destroyed leaving only few parts near the Bin Laden’s compound.

Unfortunately for them, those parts didn’t seem to belong to any known type.

In particular, the tail rotor had an unusual cover that could be anything from an armor plate to a noise reduction cover sheltering the motion-control technology used to input low-frequency variations of rotor blade pitch-angle, as tested by NASA; the blades were flatter, and not wing-shaped, whereas the paint job was extremely similar to the kind of anti-radar paint and Radar-Absorbing Material coating used by the most modern stealth fighters: nothing common to either Black Hawks, Chinooks or Apaches helicopters: that crash landed unveiled a Stealth Black Hawk (or MH-X).

Back to the Sunday raid, it’s worth noticing it was the first carried out with commandos, considered that the U.S. has typically relied on drone strikes to target AQ militants in the region (the latest of those were launched each day from Jan. 20 to 22 killing five terrorists). However, it seems this time U.S. troops seized militants laptops, smartphones and other material that was worth the rare ground assault against Al Qaeda.

Top image: file photo of a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22s during an exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California (USMC)

 

U.S. F-35 Update: F-35A to Red Flag, Navy F-35Cs Experience Problems, Marine F-35B Leads

Large Number of Air Force F-35As to Red Flag 17-1, Navy Works Through F-35C Launch Problem, Marines Continue to Lead in F-35B Integration.

January of 2017 has been a busy month for the ongoing integration of new Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters into U.S. operational deployment with the U.S. Air Force and testing with the U.S. Navy.

Most recently the U.S. Air Force has deployed flight and maintenance crews of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings from Hill AFB to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on January 20, 2017 for Red Flag 17-1. The units are reportedly contributing an unprecedented total of thirteen F-35As to the exercise according to spotters on the ground outside Nellis.

The F-35As join twelve U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 149th Fighter Squadron of the Virginia Air National Guard 192nd Fighter Wing flying to Nevada from Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Virginia. This marks a significant exercise to utilize the interoperability of the F-35A with the F-22 as a unified force.

P-51, F-35 and F-22 Heritage Flight

Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander told official Air Force media, “Our Airmen are excited to bring the F-35 to a full-spectrum combat exercise. The Red Flag battle space is going to be a great place to leverage our stealth and interoperability. It’s a lethal platform and I’m confident we will prove to be an invaluable asset to the commander.”

The Red Flag deployment for Air Force F-35As is significant since it marks a major milestone in one of the aircraft’s primary roles, flying as an interoperable sensor and intelligence gathering platform in combination with other tactical aircraft. Maj. Jeffrey Falanga, director of operations for the 414th Combat Training Squadron that hosts Red Flag told media, “Red Flag is important because of what it provides,” Major Falanga went on to say, “(Red Flag) provides our training audience with a realistic environment enabling them to practice in all domains–air, ground, space, and cyber–and also to be able to practice interoperability with not only U.S., but joint and coalition forces. Which is important since we’ll operate with these forces in our next engagement.”

Last year the U.S. Marines deployed six F-35B Lightning II’s from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 to Red Flag 16-3 in July-August 2016. The Marine F-35Bs have since been deployed to the western Pacific. This suggests the Marines have had the highest degree of success in integrating F-35s into an operational setting even though they fly the most complex version of the F-35, the “B” version with the STOVL  (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) capability designed to operate from small assault carrier ships.

The year had a bumpy start, literally, for U.S. Navy F-35C tests and evaluation. In a Jan. 11, 2017 news story the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) for the U.S. Navy’s F-35C program was quoted as reporting that, “Excessive vertical oscillations during catapult launches make the F-35C operationally unsuitable for carrier operations, according to fleet pilots.”

The problem that prompted the report is predominantly the result of the nose landing gear suspension settings and/or design according to AviationWeek.com. The nose landing gear is not adequately damping the strong vertical movement that results when the nose gear is released from the catapult launch apparatus at the end of the flight deck. The vertical oscillations were severe enough that pilots could not read flight-critical data on their instrument displays according the report. The oscillations caused most pilots to lock their seat harness during launch, which made emergency controls difficult for some pilots to reach. The test pilots deemed this situation “unacceptable and unsafe,” according the report portions published by AviationWeek.com.

During carrier launches the nosewheel suspension is compressed both by the tension of the catapult towbar and to a smaller degree by thrust applied when the pilot advances the throttle to take-off power settings. The front of the aircraft “squats” or assumes a slightly nose-downward angle of attack compared to when it is not attached to the catapult towbar for launch.

Once the catapult is fired and the hold-back behind the nose landing gear is released the aircraft begins its trip down the flight deck propelled by jet thrust from the engines and either by hydraulic, or on newer aircraft carriers, electromagnetic force through the catapult. At the end of the flight deck on the bow of the ship where the flight deck ends the towbar releases the nose landing gear and the nose of the aircraft rapidly rises, increasing angle of attack to facilitate optimal lift at the speed the aircraft is traveling when it reaches the edge of the deck. The amount of launch force used by the catapult is different for each launch depending on the gross take-off weight of the aircraft being launched. It varies with type, fuel load and payload.

The problems were reported during the latest round of sea trials on board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). These latest reports conflict with earlier reports from sea trials onboard USS George Washington in August of 2015 when Cmdr. Ted “Dutch” Dyckman, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 101, the “Grim Reapers”, told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, “It’s just easy, It’s really easy to fly.”

Twelve U.S. Navy pilots operated the F-35C during earlier aircraft trials in 2016 aboard the George Washington from Strike Fighter Squadron 101, the “Grim Reapers”. The pilots were completing carrier qualifications as a continuing phase of the F-35C’s testing prior to operational deployment.

The Navy’s Patuxent River-based Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 is the unit that reported the take-off anomalies. Flight operations for the later phase of tests by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23), included taking off and landing with externally mounted simulated weapons and asymmetrical loading. These additional loads may be a factor in the outcome of the testing and the subsequent report.

While this is a negative report about U.S. Navy F-35C operations, the final version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to enter U.S. service (The U.S. Marine F-35B and Air Force F-35A are already operational), it is a relatively minor potential defect in the program that will likely be corrected as a result of this finding.

Finally, in F-35 airshow news we learned in a phone conversation with Mark Thibeault, civilian contractor speaking about the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Team, that the team’s schedule will include “fourteen dates” in 2017. The final scheduling for the F-35 Heritage Flight Team will be completed within 2-3 weeks according the Thibeault.

Author with Major Will Andreotta

Major Will Andreotta returns as the F-35A Heritage Flight pilot for 2017.

Image credit: Tom Demerly

 

 

As U.S. F-35s deploy to Japan, China Increases Naval Pressure Near Taiwan provoking a reaction.

Chinese Carrier Liaoning Crosses Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone: Provokes Taiwanese Response.

Media and intelligence sources report the Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning has crossed the politically sensitive Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) along with several escort ships. The Liaoning sailed up the west side of the median line of the strait separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan.

The Chinese government issued a release stating the Liaoning and her support vessels were conducting drills to test weapons and equipment in the disputed South China Sea and that these operations are in compliance with international law.

In response, Taiwan dispatched patrol and fighter aircraft to monitor the passage of the Liaoning group. The Taipei Times reported a similar incident on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, 2016. During that incident people in the city of Hualien photographed Taiwanese F-16 and RF-16 aircraft taking off in response to the sighting of the Liaoning in monitored waters. Reports also indicate that Taiwan’s E-2K Hawkeye and P-3 Orion aircraft were dispatched to the area to maintain patrol and surveillance. These same aircraft likely responded to this passage of the Liaoning.

In unrelated activity in the western Pacific region, on Jan. 9, 2017 the U.S. Marines deployed ten F-35B Lightening II STOVL aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), the “Green Knights” to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Honshu Island in Japan. The squadron is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma.

Although the deployment to Iwakuni is not a direct U.S. response to escalating tensions in the region as it represents a planned phase of the normal operational integration of the F-35B force for the U.S. Marine, the deployment of the most advanced American aircraft to the region has also a symbolic value.

MCAS Iwakuni is approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,079 nautical miles) northeast of central Taiwan. Range of the F-35 is generically reported as 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 kilometers) with a stated combat radius of 625 nautical miles (1,158 km) unrefueled.

The F-35B STOVL variant is intended for shipboard operations however, and was recently tested on board the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) that is currently operating from the west coast of the United States for deployment in the Pacific theatre. USS America is one of three amphibious assault ships in this class that also includes the USS Tripoli (LHA 7) and USS Bougainville (LHA 6).

The Liaoning (Chinese CV-16) has a complex history.

It started life as a Russian (then Soviet) Navy Kuznetsov class carrier christened the Riga and launched in late 1988. It was the largest Russian naval ship ever built. The ship was re-named the Varyag in 1990 after nearly being commandeered by Ukraine. The Chinese initially had a plan to repurpose the ship as a floating casino, but China eventually elected to use the vessel as a training aircraft carrier and presumably a full-scale feasibility study for the operation and development of new Chinese aircraft carriers.

China is well underway in construction of their second aircraft carrier, the Type 001A now designated the Chinese CV-17. The new carrier is an indigenous Chinese design that does still use the ski-jump style aircraft launch technique as opposed to a steam or magnetic driven catapult as with U.S. carriers. That only one of these new Chinese-engineered carrier class vessels is under construction suggests that China may be developing another, more advanced carrier class. Additionally, intelligence indicates the Chinese are developing an indigenous magnetic catapult launch system.

Reports in Chinese media indicate that the Liaoning has an onboard compliment of 36 aircraft total. They include up to 24 Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark fighters that are reported to be restricted from carrying heavy strike weapons by take-off performance on board the ship according to Russian media. If accurate, this limits these aircraft to the air superiority role while flying from Liaoning. The J-15 Flying Shark is analogous to the Russian Su-33, sharing a plan form similar to the entire Su-27 series of Sukhoi aircraft.

The remainder of the ship’s compliment is limited to rotary wing aircraft including the Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine patrol helicopter and the “J” variant of the Z-18 helicopter configured for airborne early warning. The ship also reportedly carries two smaller Harbin Z-9C helicopters for rescue operations, an important role given the experience of the Russian carrier in anti-ISIL operations off Syria.

Given the aircraft onboard Liaoning currently the ship’s role is limited, in an operational sense, to air security patrol. The ship’s aircraft have no strike or even heavy anti-ship capability beyond its ASW helicopters.

 

In a massive exercise HMLA-369 launched a unique assault formation of AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom helicopters

During Flying The Barn exercise U.S. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 launched a unique assault formation made of AH-1Z Viper attack and UH-1Y Venom tactical transport helicopters.

On Nov. 4, 2016, U.S. Marines from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 369 took part in an exercise known as “Flying the Barn” on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

The video below is titled “Flying the Barn” in reference to the slang used for putting every aircraft “in the barn” up in the air at once, a rare sight at any military installation.

During the Exercise, U.S. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 launched a unique assault formation of their advanced version AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter and their UH-1Y Venom tactical transport.

The formation is interesting since the U.S. Marines are the only operators of the “Viper” and “Venom” advanced helicopter variants. These aircraft are descendents of the legacy AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Huey helicopters. The continued operation of these two greatly evolved platforms seems at odds with new aircraft now in use by the U.S. Marines, the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the F-35B Lightning II V/STOL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Despite the long history of their predecessors, the original Huey and Cobra, the highly evolved AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom are very advanced combat aircraft that are easily contemporaries of the newer MV-22 Osprey and even the F-35B Lightning II.

The AH-1Z Viper flies on a new carbon fiber composite four-blade rotor system with 75% fewer moving parts in the vulnerable rotor mast despite having two additional blades compared to early Cobra gunships. The “Zulu” gunships have larger winglet weapon stations that can mount AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared guided air-to-air missiles in addition to air-to-ground rockets and guided missiles. The AH-1Z also has reshaped engine cowling and exhaust to reduce infrared signature for evading heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. Viper flight crews wear an advanced flight helmet integrated into aircraft avionics and equipped with recently enhanced night vision and target queuing.

The heavily updated four-bladed UH-1Y Venom is an adaptation of the legacy Huey platform but with massive upgrades making it essentially a new helicopter.

Also updated to a large four-blade rotor as with the AH-1Z Viper, the Venom has battle-damage resistant composite rotor blades and a new, simplified mast system. The rotor upgrades provide significantly greater lift, range and speed on the Venom. Although usually operated in formation with its Marine companion, the AH-1Z Viper, the UH-1Y Venom can transport Marines and also carry its own ground attack weapons. The Venom can mount 2.75-inch rockets on each winglet including the newest “smart” Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rocket from BAE Systems.

U.S. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 has an impressive legacy that includes being the first Marine Corps unit to fly the Cobra attack helicopter in a combat operation back in 1972 during the Vietnam conflict.

Both of these aircraft are common sights around the massive Camp Pendleton Marine Base in southern California. If you are driving between San Diego and Los Angeles on the Interstate 5 coastal highway it is common to see the aircraft flying, but not in the numbers seen in this video. Seeing these unique variants of both aircraft is a treat since the U.S. Marines are the only service to fly them and employ unique tactics with the aircraft making them interesting.

 

Salva

Yet another U.S. F/A-18 has just crashed in Japan. It’s the 9th Legacy Hornet lost in 6 months and the crash rate is alarming.

An F/A-18 Hornet stationed in Japan has crashed in the Yamaguchi prefecture. The pilot has ejected but his fate is unknown.

Reports are emerging that a U.S. F/A-18 Hornet has crashed earlier today in Japan. Rescue efforts to recover the pilot would be underway.

Although no further details are available at this time, the fact that the aircraft was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, seems to suggest the jet involved in the crash was a U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C/D model.

If confirmed this would be the 9th major incident involving a “Legacy Hornet” (including the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the last 6 months.

Although each crash has its own root causes and may depend on several contributing factor (including the human error), we can’t but observe, once again, that the rate of crashes involving legacy Hornets is alarming.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornets from MCAS Miramar crashed on Nov. 9 near San Diego. Another one on Oct. 25. A Swiss Air Force Hornet was lost on Aug. 29, whereas a Navy F/A-18C crashed on Aug. 2. On Jul. 27 USMC F/A-18 crashed so as the Blue Angels Hornet that crashed on Jun. 2.

This is how we commented the Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 crash:

“In the wake of the Hornet crashes from June through October, the U.S. Marine Corps temporarily grounded its non-deployed Hornets. Unfortunately, few days after the ban was lifted, two more F/A-18Cs were lost on Nov. 9.

Hornet crashes over the last year have depleted the number of available airplanes for training and operations. According to USNI News the service had 85 Hornets available for training, compared to a requirement for 171.

In order to face the critical shortage of operational fighters caused by both crashes and high operational tempos, the U.S: Marine Corps has launched a plan that will see Boeing upgrade 30 retired legacy Hornets (currently stored at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona) to a standard dubbed F/A-18C+.

With this upgrade, that will also embed new avionics, the service will be able to keep up with its operational tasks until the F-35 is able to take over.

Once upgraded to the C+ standard, these “gap fillers” should be more than enough to conduct combat operations in low-lethality scenarios like those that see the USMC at work these days.

Furthermore, once these “refreshed” Hornets are delivered to the squadrons, older airframes can be retired, improving flight safety.”

Once again: aircraft may crash for a variety of reasons, not always technical. Still, the rate of Legacy Hornet crashes in the last months seems to be unusual and, as such, concerning.