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).
Anakonda-16 and Baltops-16 exercises are currently underway in Poland, involving numerous air assets.
Several combat planes operating within a realistic modern air combat scenario over the Polish territory must be supported by AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations.
During the last week, Filip Modrzejewski visited the Powidz Air Base, near Gniezno, where 4 U.S. Air Force KC-135 tankers from the 434th Air Refueling Wing and 100th Air Refueling Wing are stationed.
Cooperation between Foto Poork and USAF made it possible for Filip to obtain the unique shots, including photographs that depict the thirsty Polish Air Force F-16 jets getting refueled during the training operations.
The task is not easy, since the photographer needs to take a laying position, in limited space and very limited visibility.
The Polish F-16 jets are being refueled from both the 100th ARW and the 434th ARW tankers, while the presented shots have been taken from the tanker belonging to 100th ARW, operating from RAF Mildenhall.
Besides the AAR operation, Anakonda-16 exercise also featured massive airdrop, near the Torun military training range. The airborne units were tasked with taking over a bridge. The operation is still in progress and we may see more unique material coming up in the next few days.
Air National Guard Eagles have taken part in one of the largest exercises in Europe before heading to Bulgaria.
Eight F-15C/D Eagle aircraft and supporting personnel from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base, and the 144th Fighter Wing, Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, have taken part to Frisian Flag exercise from Leeuwarden airbase, Netherlands, between Apr. 11 and 22.
The 8 F-15s of the 131st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron that attended the 12-day Royal Netherlands Air Force Frisian Flag 2016 exercise “dominated the skies” according to a U.S. Air Force release.
The F-15 proved to be the preeminent air superiority fighter, while the highly trained support staff and expert maintainers ensured 98% aircraft availability. “The jets and personnel have exceeded performance expectations and our international partners have repeatedly complimented the professional and lethal performance of the 131st,” said Lt. Col. David Halasi-Kun, 131st EFS detachment commander.
The aim of the exercise was to practice multination MFFO (mixed fighter force operations) against realistic airborne, ground and naval threats to validate tactics and improve cooperation.
F-16s belonging to the KLu, Polish Air Force, Belgian Air Force, Royal Danish Air Force, F/A-18 Hornet from the Finnish Air Force, RAF Tornados, German Typhoons, French Mirage 2000D and N jets took part in the exercise along with the U.S. F-15s.
Interestingly, one of the F-15s can also be seen in the image below carrying a SNIPER ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod): the TGT pods are used by interceptors to watch the enemy from distance without using the radar to “paint” it.
After the FF2016 came to an end, the 131st EFS redeployed to Bulgaria “to continue its overall mission to strengthen interoperability and demonstrate U.S. commitment to a Europe that is whole, free, at peace, secure, prosperous and able to deter aggression.”
For the moment, the Air Force is not committed to the new design or any other U-2 replacement concept: addressing reporters earlier this week, Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief of staff for ISR, said the U.S. Air Force can’t simply afford its two high-altitude ISR platforms (U-2 and RQ-4) as well as develop the new aircraft.
Indeed, even though it could continue to operate for other two or three decades, the U-2 is slated to be withdrawn from use in 2019 and when the upgraded Global Hawk will take over all the high-altitude ISR tasks.
Nevertheless, even the Dragon Lady is constantly being upgraded with new sensor packages, as the images in this post seem to suggest.
Taken by Kevin Joyce from Sidewinder Aviation Photography at Palmdale, California, widely known as “Skunk Works” LM’s Advanced Development Program Facility (that is to say, where some of the most futuristic “black projects” are developed), the photos show a new, big camera installed underneath the nose section of a Dragon Lady landing at Air Force Plant 42.
Any idea what it can be? Just a new wide-angle hi-rez camera?