The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps fighter components have obtained the certification to refuel from the Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767A tankers.
One of the four Italian Air Force KC-767A aircraft has completed the testing required to certify the U.S. Navy fighter component to perform AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations with the new tanker.
The certification activities took place at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland, home of VX-23, VX-31 and Marine Aircraft Group 14, where the Italian tanker, belonging to the 14° Stormo (Wing) Strategic Transport and Air Refueling from Pratica di Mare, deployed on Aug. 19.
According to the ItAF, the whole operation was completed in 10 weeks, six of those were focused on flight testing with U.S. Navy / U.S. Marine Corps Hornets, Super Hornets, Harriers and Prowlers.
Roughly one year ago, the RSV (Reparto Sperimentale Volo – Italian Flying Test Unit) deployed to the U.S. with the KC-767A to carry out the first certification of a USAF tanker with stereoscopic vision system (Remote Vision System – RVS). Furthermore, in the same period, a KC-767A belonging to 8° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 14° Stormo became the first international tanker to successfully complete aerial refueling of a U.S. Air Force F-35A during a boom receiver certification refueling flight conducted over California’s High Desert region on Jul. 29, 2015.
The KC-767A is a specific variant obtained from the commercial aircraft Boeing 767-200ER “Extended Range.” Equipped with both the sixth generation flying boom (based on the one of the American KC-10), and three hose and drogue stations, the tanker is be able to refuel both aircraft equipped with onboard receptacle and those with a refueling probe.
Interestingly, whilst in a KC-135 the “boomer” (as the operator is nicknamed) is prone and moves the flying boom in the receptacle watching the receiver through a rear observation window, in the KC-767 the operators move the boom using a joystick and watching the video from a series of cameras mounted on the tanker’s rear fuselage. The advanced camera system feeds a Remote Vision System that provides high-definition stereoscopic imagery to the vision goggles attached to a sort-of flight helmet worn by the boomer during the air-to-air refueling.
This is something you don’t see every day: an F-16 flying alongside a C-130J Super Hercules.
In the last few days, the 148th Fighter Squadron, a unit of the Arizona Air National Guard, 162nd Fighter Wing, based at Tucson Air National Guard Base, Arizona, helped U.S. Air Force C-130 pilots train in developing self-defense tactics to avoid airborne threats by simulating enemy pilots.
Two U.S. Air Force B-1 Lancer bombers from Guam performed a “show of force” in South Korea following Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test.
On Sept. 12, two B-1B bombers flew over Osan airbase, South Korea, in a show of force against North Korea that has recently conducted a nuclear test.
The flyover saw the first “Bone” escorted by four South Korean F-15K Slam Eagles and the second bomber escorted by four U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons.
Actually, the low level flight over Osan was just the latest part of a longer mission launched from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
According to the PACOM, in the vicinity of Japan, the B-1Bs conducted fighter interception training with two F-2 fighters from JASDF to enhance operational capabilities and the tactical skills of units.
Later in the flight, the JASDF and the ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) fighters conducted a hand-off of the U.S. B-1Bs in international airspace. Following the handoff, the B-1Bs and ROKAF F-15 fighter aircraft and U.S. F-16 fighter aircraft conducted a low-level flight in the vicinity of Osan.
The mission carried by the B-1s is just the latest in a series of similar missions carried out over South Korea to flex muscles against Pyongyang: in the past, B-52s and B-2s have performed similar flyovers, whereas Elephant Walks are regularly staged at South Korean airbases, involving both local and U.S. combat planes.
The B-1 that took part in the mission over Osan belong to the 28th Bomb Wing from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, that have deployed to Guam on Aug. 6 to replaced the B-52s in supporting the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission.
The B-1s, at their first deployment to Andersen Air Force Base in a decade, have brought years of repeated combat and operational experience from the Central Command theater to the Pacific.
The aircraft have just received some additional cockpit upgrades during works conducted after the Bones returned stateside in January 2016, after a 6-month deployment worth 3,800 munitions on 3,700 targets in 490 Close Air Support and Air Interdiction sorties in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS.
The US announced that THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System) is going to be stationed in South Korea, following the recent events.
The Raptors of the latest Block can drop GBU-39 small diameter bombs on ISIS targets.
The Raptors deployed to Al Dhafra airbase, UAE, are the most up-to-date F-22As flown by the U.S. Air Force.
Assigned to the 90th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the modernized Raptors made their debut in Operation Inherent Resolve, the air war on the Islamic State, in April, bringing expanded capabilities in the fight against Daesh.
“What our squadron is bringing to the fight now versus some of the previous squadrons, is we have the most up to date software and hardware loads that an F-22 can carry,” said Lt. Col. David, 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander in a recent Air Force release. “There is a huge advancement in the capabilities of the avionics, the radar system, the sensors and certain electronic features on board the aircraft.”
Although they are rarely requested to attack ground targets, the Alaskan Raptors can now drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs while previously they were limited to carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bay: with the latest upgrade they can be tasked for missions which require greater precision.
An initial air-to-surface capability, including that of dropping the GBU-39 (a 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range, whose integration testing started in 2007) had been introduced with the software increment 3.1 back in 2012.
Even though the odds of using an advanced air-to-air missiles over Syria are pretty low, another important addition to the F-22’s payload is the latest generation AIM-9X (already integrated in most of US combat planes since 2003): on Mar. 1, 2016 the 90th Fighter Squadron (FS) officially became the first combat-operational Raptor unit to equip an F-22 with the AIM-9X Sidewinder.
Noteworthy, the AIM-9X will not be coupled to a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) as the F-22 is not equipped with such kind of helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery (the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts) but the Raptor will probably benefit of the AIM-9X Block II, that is expected to feature a Lock-on After Launch capability with a datalink, for Helmetless High Off-Boresight (HHOBS): the air-to-air missile will be launched first and then directed to its target afterwards even though it is behind the launching aircraft.
During the journey, the F-35Bs were assisted by two U.S. Air Force KC-10 tankers that refueled the Lightining II 5th Generation aircraft 15 times over the Atlantic (note: this *should* be the total aerial refueling operations, meaning that each stealth plane plugged the In-Flight Refueling probe 5 times into the tanker’s hose).
The following B-roll shows the aircraft during the AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) ops.
The three STOVL variants were followed by three F-35A of the U.S. Air Force Heritage flight on the following day: this was the first time USAF F-35s crossed the Pond.
Interestingly, AW&ST’s James Drew was aboard one of the KC-10s and filmed the refueling operations of the F-35As. You will notice that the A model is refueled by means of the USAF’s standard flying boom system, as opposed to the F-35B that instead of the fuel receptacle use the on-board IFR probe required by the hose and drogue system, the Navy/Marines standard. Noteworthy, according to Drew, the F-35As required 4 aerial refueling operations each: the F-35A has a max range of 1,200 miles, while the F-35B has a max range of 900 miles (thus the need for an additional AAR).