Tag Archives: U.S. Navy

Russian Su-24 Fencer Combat Aircraft (Closely Watched By Swedish JAS 39 Gripen Jets) Buzz Dutch Navy Frigate In The Baltic

Russian Fencers have started buzzing NATO warships in the Baltic Sea again.

On May 17, two Russian Su-24M Fencer attack jets flew quite close to the Royal Netherlands Navy Frigate HNLMS Evertsen, operating in the Baltic Sea.

The two unarmed aircraft, escorted by Swedish JAS-39 Gripen jets in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert), come within 200 meters of the ship.

The Fencers that carried out the low passages over a Dutch Navy frigate in the Baltic. Highlighted is an accompanying JAS 39 Gripen. Credit: Royal Netherlands Navy.

The Fencer are not new to this kind of “overflights”: in Apr. 2016, some Su-24s performed as many as 20 overflights, within 1,000 yards of the ship, as low as 100 feet and 11 “very low simulated attack” over USS Donald Cook destroyer in the Baltic Sea. Two years earlier, in April 2014, a Russian Su-24MR, flew within 1,000 yards of the very same US Navy destroyer that was operating in the Black Sea following the crisis in Ukraine. At that time, a show of force considered  “provocative and inconsistent with international agreements.”

One of the two Russian Su-24 Fencer jets that “harassed” the Dutch frigate in the Baltic Sea on May 17.

This time the Dutch Navy has claimed “the passage wasn’t a threat to the ship.”

Indeed, HMLMS Evertsen is one of the four De Zeven Provinciën-class highly advanced air-defense and command frigates in service with the Dutch Navy.

It is specialised in the anti-air warfare equipped with a long-range surveillance SMART-L and the APAR multi-function radar. The warship is equipped with 32 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles launched by the Mk41 VLS (Vertical Launch System), for point defence; and 32 SM-2 Block IIIA, area defence missiles: a heavily armed warship that could probably counter the Su-24 threat pretty well.

Fast and low, one of the Russian Su-24s approaching the Dutch warships in the Baltics.

In the event of a real attack, the jets would have to employ stand-off weaponry

H/T Steven Bal for the heads-up. Image credit: Dutch Navy.

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Blue Angels F/A-18s Make Contact And “Swap Paint” During Flyover: Pilots Land Aircraft Safely.

Joint Flyover Last Wednesday With USAF Thunderbirds Nearly Ends in Disaster.

A rare joint flyover last Wednesday, Apr. 26, with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds nearly ended in calamity when two of the Blue Angels’ F/A-18 Hornets momentarily touched while flying in formation causing minor damage to both aircraft. The two aircraft landed without incident following the collision.

According to a statement released by U.S. Navy Blue Angels spokesperson Lt. Joe Hontz and published in the Navy Times, “Two of the jets in the Blue Angel Delta formation encountered unexpected wake turbulence,” Hontz said, “causing a very brief and minor contact between the aircraft.”

The Blue Angels’ Boeing F/A-18 Hornet aircraft were flying in the six aircraft “delta” formation, an arrowhead arrangement of the four aircraft diamond formation combined with the two solo aircraft flying in outer trailing positions of the four-plane diamond.

Blue Angel Solos perform an opposing pass.

The Navy Times reported that Lt. Hontz said, “It is a testament to the training of the pilots that this incident remained very benign. The Blue Angels train in an environment where they fly extremely close — inches away from one another — and are fully prepared to respond and recover should minor contact occur.”

Even a small contact between two combat jets may have catastrophic consequences considered the velocities and energy involved.

An unnamed spokesperson added, “The aircraft required minor maintenance following the ‘paint-swap’ but are currently back in service.” The term “paint swap” was coined in American NASCAR stock car racing to describe when two racecars touch and rub paint onto each other from a minor collision.

The two pilots involved in the incident were not named in official press releases but are reported as cleared to continue flying demonstrations. They performed this past weekend during routine flight demonstrations at the MCAS Beaufort Airshow on April 29-30.

This 2017 incident follows an unusual number of precision jet demonstration team accidents from the same period in 2016 when four crashes on four separate jet teams occurred in only seven days. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the Swiss Patrouille Suisse team and the Russian Knights all suffered accidents during this time.

Among these, the crash of a Blue Angel F/A-18 during practice for a weekend airshow, took the life of U.S. Marine Captain Jeff Kuss, the Blue Angel number 6 pilot flying in the solo position. An official accident investigation revealed that Capt. Kuss, a highly-experienced FA-18 pilot, had “transitioned from the high-performance climb to the Split S [maneuver] too low and too fast, and by not deselecting his afterburners during the maneuver, he continued to accelerate. The net effect of these deviations was that the aircraft was simply too low and too fast to avoid impacting the ground.”

Hopefully this reportedly minor incident will be the last similar incident for the 2017 season and we will not see a repeated high frequency of accidents this season.

In our story about the fourth incident, we commented: “What’s the odds of four incidents occurring to four display teams in one week? It’s surely an unlucky period.”

Popular Mechanics aviation journalist Kyle Mizokami wrote about the 2016 incidents, “The timing of the four [2016] crashes, all within a seven-day period and two days with two apiece, is a wildly improbable coincidence.”

Update: here’s a video allegedly showing the moment of contact and the “break” between the aircraft: https://www.facebook.com/tim.tisdale.9/videos/10154774271204825/

Image credit: Tom Demerly. Top image shows the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in the “Delta” six-aircraft formation (file photo)

This VAQ-130 Cruise Video Showcases The Air War Against ISIS From The EA-18G Growler Aircrews Point of View

In 2016, VAQ-130 Growler Electronic Attack aircraft worked hard to deny the ISIS militants the ability to communicate.

Islamic State militants rely heavily on COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) and DIY radios along with smartphones to communicate, browse the Internet, send emails, exchange messages, dispatch orders, trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) etc.

Various platforms of the US-led coalition that fights ISIS in Syria and Iraq continuously work to snoop into Daesh comms, intercept the signals emitted by their devices and, if needed, make such communication impossible (by disturbing the comms or attacking the cell towers or targeting specific high value individuals using cell phones).

“Kinetic Electronic Attack platforms” can be called in by other aircraft (such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplanes which can disseminate data gathered in real-time via tactical data link) or ground forces to prevent ISIS fighters from talking to other militants by jamming their cell phones with high-power signals or by dropping actual ordnance at them.

Last year, among the units waging the Air War on ISIS frequencies, there were also the VAQ-130 Zappers.

Embarked on USS Eisenhower with their Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet (that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service), the “Zappers” have supported Operation Inherent Resolve carrying out a wide variety of missions.

The badge sported by the VAQ-130’s EA-18G during their 2016 cruise.

Indeed the Growler has the ability to jam the enemy communications or work in combination with other EA-18s to geo-locate a signal source and target it from stand-off distance with air-to-surface missiles such as the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile).

The following video provides the highlight of VAQ-130’s 2016 cruise. And includes much OIR footage.

Enjoy!

H/T Maximilien Pétré for the heads-up

US military has launched 59 cruise missiles at airbase in Syria. Here’s what we know so far.

Two U.S. destroyers cruising in the eastern Mediterranean Sea have fired 59 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles at an airbase in western Syria. The cruise missiles flew across the Russian S-400 MEZ unscathed.

Last night, Alreigh Burke-class destroyers USS Porter (DDG-78) and USS Ross (DDG-71) launched cruise missiles into Syria, in response to the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians on Apr. 4.

On President Donald Trump’s order, 59 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) targeted runway, hardened aircraft shelters, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, radars and fuel points at Shayrat Airbase, the airfield in western Syria from where, according to the intelligence gathered by the U.S., the aircraft that carried out the chemical attacks were launched

The track of the Syrian aircraft that carried out the CW attack on Khan Shaykhn (DoD released)

According to the first reports, all the aircraft based there have been destroyed or severely damaged, including some 30 Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter attack planes, several SyAAF MiG-23s and also some Su-24 Fencers according to sources. For sure, considered the status of Assad’s air force, the attack may have had a significant impact on the ability of the loyalist air force to conduct air strikes.

However, later reports say that most of the aircraft based there were evacuated before the strike, and initial footage from Shayrat seems to show at least some areas of the airports, including taxiways, shelters, aprons, etc. with little or no damages.

Update:

Only 23 missiles flew to the Syrian air base and just 6 MiG-23s were destroyed there along with a radar station, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, said at a briefing. Where the remaining 36 cruise missiles have landed is “unknown,” he said.

According to Pentagon, the Russians were informed ahead of strike:

Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line.  U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.

Indeed, Shayrat Airbase is a Forward Operating Base for a few Russian Air Force Mi-35 and Ka-52 helicopters. The status of the choppers, provided some of these were there at the moment of the air strike, is unknown. However, considered that these are not mentioned in the Russian Defense Ministry statement it’s safe to assume they were not damaged by the TLAM attack.

Noteworthy, the TLAMs flew across the MEZ (Missile Engagement Zone) of the S-400 missile battery the Russians deployed to Latakia to protect the Russian air contingent deployed there in 2015.

Did Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft defense system detect the missiles? For sure there are no reports of any of the BGM-109 intercepted by the S-400. 

Designated SA-21 “Growler” by NATO, the S-400 is believed to be able to engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft (someone says even VLO – Very Low Observable ones), drones and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 250 miles at an altitude of nearly 19 miles. Equipped with 3 different types of missiles and an acquisition radar capable of tracking up to 300 targets within the range of over 370 miles, the Triumph (or Triumf) is a system made of 8 launchers and a control station.

Supported by effective EW (Electronic Warfare) capabilities, the S-400 fires missiles against aerial targets flying at 17,000 km/h.

So, at least on paper, all non-stealth aircraft and missiles would hardly be able to dodge S-400 missiles. Assuming that the Russians probably detected at least some of the Tomahawks flying fast and low towards their targets at Shayrat Airbase it’s not clear why the Trimf did not attempt to intercept any of the TLAMs launched by the US destroyers, considered the reaction by Viktor Ozerov, head of the Russian Federation Council’s defense committee, who said the American attack was “an act of aggression against a UN member […] Cooperation between the Russian and US militaries may be shut down after the US strike.” according to state news agency RIA.

Perhaps, considered that they were informed beforehand, they simply decided to let them pass. The Russian MoD statement does not say mention any Russian air defense system intercepting any of the U.S. missiles launched towards Shayrat Airbase even though some sources have suggested only 23 missiles reached their targets because the other ones were brought down near Tartous by the local S-400 and S-300 batteries.

The S-400 MEZ (source: RT)

 

Anyway, the U.S. TLAM strike marks a shift in Washington’s posture regarding Syria and it represents the first direct action against Assad’s regime after six years of civil war.

Back in 2013, when a U.S. military operation in Syria was being rumored, we published an article that you can read here. Here are some key points of that story, that still apply four years later:

“Forget F-15E Strike Eagles and F/A-18E Super Hornets carrying PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions). Should Washington really get involved in Syria, it will probably be a limited air war, mainly made of cruise missiles, most (if not all) shot by warships or submarines and almost no involvement of “tacair” (tactical airplanes).

[…]

The attack would be conducted by the four destroyers in the Sixth fleet area of operations (USS Gravely, USS Barry, USS Mahan and USS Ramage) [in 2013 these were operating in the eastern Mediterranea], each theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles (actually less, because these warships usually carry a mix of attack and air defense missiles).

High flying Global Hawk drones flying from Incirlik, Sigonella or Al Dhafra, will perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment). Some sorties will also be flown by U-2s.”

At that time a real air campaign was thought to be considered. The one carried out in the night between Apr. 6 and 7 was probably an isolated air strike in retaliation for the Syrian chemical strikes earlier this week.

 

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All U.S. F/A-18 Hornet models affected by oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression issues

Legacy and Super Hornet showing a concerning steady increase in “physiological episodes” that U.S. Navy calls “No.1 safety issue.”

The F/A-18 Hornets of all variants seems to be affected by a serious issue: oxygen shortage, or hypoxia, is plaguing the fleet of Legacy (A/B/C/D), Super Hornet (E/F) and Growler (EA-18G).

As reported by Bloomberg News, the F/A-18 of all models have shown a steady yearly increases of what the Navy calls “physiological episodes” due to oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression since the since May 1, 2010.

Navy officials testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee called the problem the “No.1 safety issue.”

And what is even more concerning is the fact that there seem to be little clue as to what is causing the issue.

The “lack of overall progress” is “of great concern,” said Representative Niki Tsongas, the top Democrat in the panel.

While investigating the issue (with a task force of 62 people), the U.S. Navy has also enhanced “reduced-oxygen training” so that pilots can quickly identify the symptoms of hypoxia. Two aircraft carriers have installed chambers for aircrews exposed to decompression.

According to Bloomberg News, 130 out of 383 episodes “have involved some form of contamination,” according to a Navy and U.S. Marine Corps official statement. 114 involved an environmental control system component failure, 91 involved “human factors” and 50 concerned a component failure with the on-board oxygen generating system.

Older versions of the plane, the A through D models, have problems with cabin pressure whereas the Super Hornet and Growler issues “would appear to point to the onboard oxygen generating” system to which the Navy’ has already made changes.

It’s not clear whether the issue affects also other international Hornet operators.

Not the first time

This is not the first time the U.S. forces face the oxygen deprivation issue.

A similar problem plagued the F-22 Raptor fleet to such an extent the radar-evading aircraft were grounded back in 2011 following a deadly incident involving an Alaska-based stealth jets.

In that period, the F-22 were experiencing 26.43 instances of hypoxia or “hypoxia-like” problems for every 100,000 flight hours, compared to 2.34 instances per 100,000 hours for the F-15E and 2.96 for the latest version of the F-16 (the Hornet was not part of the data set released back then.)

After lifting the flight ban, the Pentagon restricted Air Force Raptors to fly near a “proximate landing location” in order to give pilots the possibility to land quickly if their planes’ On Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) failed.

In May 2012, two 1st Fighter Wing “whistleblowers” appeared on CBS 60 minutes to explain why they were “uncomfortable” flying the Raptor (before changing idea few days later).

The flying branch eventually determined a valve that regulated oxygen flow into the Raptor pilot’s pressure vest was too weak and F-22s were given a new backup oxygen system as part of multiple contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin (worth 30 Million USD) that automatically dispenses oxygen when OBOGS is not providing enough. 

Various problems

The news that all the kind of Hornets might be choking their pilots comes in the wake of a Super Hornet and Growler fleet-wide grounding and (concerning but for the moment totally unrelated) increase in crash rate, especially among the oldest models.

Nine incidents involved “Legacy Hornets” (including the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the second half of last year, with the latest loss on Dec. 6, 2016, when a USMC F/A-18C crashed off Kochi causing the loss of its pilot.

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.

The crash rate has affected the ability of the USMC to perform training activities while committing to support real operations: out of a requirement for 171 aircraft, the service had only 85 Hornets available for training according to a report emerged last year.

In order to address the shortage of operational fighters the Marine Corps has launched a plan to 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+: once upgraded these “gap fillers” should be more than enough to conduct combat operations in low-lethality scenarios like those that see the USMC at work lately. Still, they might not have a fix for the hypoxia issue.

“Trump’s favorite jet”

As a side note, in their story on Bloomberg News, Roxana Tiron and Anthony Capaccio call the Hornet “Trump’s favorite fighter jet.”

This is due to the fact that Trump has been advocating the Super Hornet since December 2016, when the then president-elect posted a pretty famous tweet that favored the Boeing combat plane over the Lockheed Martin F-35C.

 

 

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