Tag Archives: UAVs

Almost Unnoticed, U.S. Air Force Begins MQ-9 Reaper Drone Operations out of Poland

USAF deploys its MQ-9 Reaper Drones to Poland.

USAF issued a short release, suggesting that the service has deployed MQ-9 Reaper UAV systems to Poland. The drones would be stationed at the Mirosławiec Air Base, which is the Poland’s airbase dedicated to host the unmanned platforms. The release issued by the Americans reads as follows:

The United States and Poland have a standing relationship to address issues of regional and global security. To advance those interests, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, the air component of U.S. European Command, is operating MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at Miroslawiec Air Base as a visible expression of U.S. efforts to enhance regional stability. This mission, starting in May 2018, has been fully coordinated with the Polish government. It is designed to promote stability and security within the region and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners.

The release, as we can see, is laconic and went by virtually unnoticed. It was issued on May 21 and does not specifiy how long the deployment is going to last. The Mirosławiec Airbase only operates smaller UAV platforms, hence Reapers would be a major addition to its capabilities.

The news issued by USAFE sparked some doubts and questions among the experts and defense media practitioners in Poland. Since the Polish MoD cancelled some of its drone procurement plans some time ago, shifting the priorities, the USAFE assets may act as a complementary measure filling in the capability gap – this is an opinion that has widely circulated in the Polish defense media public sphere. The experts suggest that no further procurement in the area of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) would be pursued by the Polish MoD, making use of the US assets to complement the capabilities at hand even though, for what deals with JASSMs (Joint Air-to-Surface Strategic Missiles) that have been acquired by the Polish Air Force, there is concern about a capability gap when it comes to actually designating targets for this strategic weapon.

Dawid Kamizela who works an analyst for the Polish Dziennik Zbrojny outlet expressed his concern that the UAVs in Poland may not even boost the Polish ISR capabilities. In a conversation, he told us the following:

According to what we have seen when it comes to operational practice pertaining to the MQ-9, the detachment in Poland, most probably, solely deals with maintenance of the assets and take offs and landings. The core of the operational activities would be controlled from CONUS, and the intelligence gathered when the UAV is flying in the Polish airspace is also being sent to CONUS directly – it is not being collected in Poland, it does not even ‘touch’ any part of the Polish infrastructure. As worrying as it is, the above would mean that even if Poland receives any intelligence, it would not come in a form of raw data, but rather as an interpreted report. Taking the local awareness into account, along with the knowledge of local conditions and geopolitical factors, the US interpretation may differ from the conclusions that could potentially be formed by the Polish analysts in Warsaw. This sparks numerous doubts, when it comes to the actual boost of the Polish ISR capability.

The Polish military has no MALE UAVs at its disposal now, procurement is being planned as a part of the Zefir programme that has not, fortunately, been a subject to cuts. MQ-9 and Israeli Hermes 900 platforms are viable candidates here. The Israeli drones, as the Defence24 outlet notes, have already made their operational debut in the Polish airspace, during the NATO Summit hosted in Warsaw and the World Youth Day. Two Zefir packages, as Defence24 recalled, are to be acquired until 2022, with procurement of another two envisaged as an option after the aforesaid deadline.

An-124 cargo aircraft were used to transfer the MQ-9s in Poland.

According to the unofficial information we have obtained, the Reapers arrived in Poland on May 9 and they were transported via the NATO SALIS solution by two An-124 airlifters that landed at the Poznan airport.

Image Credit: USAF, An-124 Image Credit: Jacek Siminski

Transformer jets, self-healing aircraft and UAVs printed with 3D printers: future of aviation unveiled

Scientists and engineers at BAE Systems have released some interesting details about some futuristic technologies that could be operative by 2040. Or earlier.

BAE Systems has been studying futuristic aircraft shapes for quite some time.

The projects the British Defense company is  working on were recently unveiled through a series of animations which show how civil and military aviation of the future could be based on 3D printers capable to print UAVs on-the-fly during a mission; aircraft that can heal themselves; a Transformer long range aircraft which splits into a number of smaller aircraft when it reaches its target, and a directed energy weapon that could engage missiles at the speed of light.

The Transformer is a flexible aircraft system that combines smaller jets: it’s a sort of mothership made of smaller sub-aircraft which can be combined together to increase the range, reduce the overall aerodynamic drag and save fuel during the transit to the area of operations.

Once the mothership has reached the target area, each single craft can split off to conduct its specific mission: attack, surveillance, airdrop to name but few.

The Survivor technology will be used to develop new aircraft and give them the possibility repair any damage sustained during the mission in flight.

The self-healing technology could improve survivability of the aircraft employed in high lethality scenarios. It is based on advanced materials: “a lightweight adhesive fluid inside a pattern of carbon nanotubes from which the aircraft is constructed and is released when damaged to quickly ‘set’ mid-flight and heal any damage,” according to BAE Systems.

Directed Energy Systems (something that has been studied in the U.S. for a long time)  is instead an on board weapon used to concentrate a low cost beam of energy at the speed of light against enemy aircraft, weapons (missiles, mortars, projecticles). In other words, it could be a laser cannon, used to hit and destroy ground and air targets with much accuracy.

Furthermore, BAE Systems foresees the use of hi-tech on-board 3D Printers that, via Additive Layer Manufacturing and robotic assembly techniques, could be used to create small unmanned aircraft on-the-fly, based on the inputs sent by a human operator from the ground control station. Needless to say, such a way to create drones could be useful in various types of mission, including air strike, surveillance or SAR (Search And Rescue) operations, during which drone copters could be created to rescue and recover single civilians or soldiers.

Even more interestingly, “after use the UAVs could render themselves useless through dissolving circuit boards or they might safely land in a recoverable position if re-use was required,” in order to prevent capture.

Even if these concepts may seem a bit futuristic and remind Terminator or Transformer movies, they will probably be the base of the future aerial warfare.

How IRIAF F-14 Tomcats could be (effectively) used in combat against Israeli or U.S. planes or drones

A previous article about the theoretical Israeli strike on Iran with the rendering of an F-15I dropping bombs on Tehran got a lot of attention and sparked debate. Someone criticized it for not being enough realistic, even if I had explained that the image had to be taken as such even if contained one (or more) wrong details. It was not supposed to be accurate that’s why I didn’t ask Al Clark, who designed it, to correct some elements of artist freedom.

In this article, a new Al’s artwork below gives me the opportunity to write something about one of the most famous aircraft in IRIAF inventory: the F-14 Tomcat.

According to “IRIAF 2010“, the book published by Harpia Publishing and written by Tom Cooper, Babak Taghvace and Liam F. Devlin, that I consider one of the most detailed sources about Iran’s Air Force, due to the lack of some spare parts, the fleet of more than 40 Tomcats is roughly divided into “airworthy” and “fully mission capable aircraft”.

The first fly without primary weapon systems and/or no AWG-9 radar; the second can perform QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) and air defense missions.

These aircraft are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.

Hence, although IRIAF officials have described the current fleet of F-14s as “completely overhauled” and “improved”, and referred to it a a “new generation of bombers” in the recent past, only a small amount of Tomcats can be used for air defense purposes in spite of the large amount of spare parts that Iran was able to clandestinely collect after the type was retired by the U.S. Navy and the efforts of various domestic companies to produce some specific parts and subsystems.

What is the role the Tomcat could play in a hypothetical war against Israel?

As already explained in the blog post about the possible long range strike on Iran’s nuclear program, IRIAF interceptors, should play “hide and seek” with the enemy forces: they could hide from the incoming packages and try to achieve some kills during the egress phase. They could be effective by simply disturbing the strike packages to let them “feel” the threat and waste some gas.

The Tomcats could somehow be effective against isolated targets, like drones, mainly before or after the first waves of air strikes: even a UAV kill could play a role in the psychological war against Israel.

For sure, radar activation would be reduced to a minimum: during the most intense part of the air campaign their AWG-9 radar would be either jammed (although it was domestically modified or locally upgraded to make it more jamming-resistant) or detected as soon as switched on, with the latter hypothesis implying the risk of interception by enemy fighters.

Obviously, just in case: before the whole thing starts the planes should be dispersed on one of the several Iranian airbases to prevent them from being destroyed on the ground at TFB.8.

Image by Al Clark for The Aviationist