Tag Archives: US Navy

US Navy to get Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance & Strike stealthy drones

Naval Air Systems Command (US Navy) has announced on its website that the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance has “identified a need for an aircraft carrier based aircraft system providing persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).”

It is thought that the US Navy is to release its requirements during December for the new aircraft, to be named Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance & Strike (UCLASS) . It is thought that the requirements will ask that the UCAV will need to be able to fly 2000 nautical miles from the carrier and carry a suite of weapons and sensors or a mixture of both. The aircraft would need to have stealth capability to penetrate hostile airspace and then send back the data its sensors have collected. Then, if necessary, they would have to destroy selected targets.

Many companies are developing their take on the UCLASS requirements. Lockheed Martin with their Sea Ghost UAS, Boeing (tweaked X-45C), Northrop Grumman (X-47B) and General Atomics (Sea Avenger) are the other leaders in the race to place a UAS on the decks of US carriers by 2018.

This may seem an aggressive schedule but the technology has also been tested to land a UAV onto the Deck of a carrier. Hence, it will be more than likely a case of modifying an existing design for the carrier operations.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Top image: the Sea Avenger in a General Atomics rendering

There was a time when the F-14 Tomcat was better at bombing Iraqi ground targets than the F-15E Strike Eagle

On Sept. 22, 2006 after 36 years of service, the last F-14 Tomcat was retired by its main operator, the US Navy, at NAS Oceana. Although six years have passed since then, there are many unknown facts to be told or simply to be remembered about the last Grumman’s (now Northrop-Grumman) fighter.

One of these often untold stories dates back to Apr. 2003 when, in the midst of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the Tomcats of the VF-154 Black Knights were embarked aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63).

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) ordered to VF-154 to detach five of its F-14A (BuNos 158620, 161296, 161288, 161292 and 158624) and five of its crews to Al Udeid air base, in Qatar. This was the first time in history that US Navy aircraft were tasked to fight a war from both ashore and at sea at the same time.

The five Black Knights’ Tomcats were dedicated to provide Forward Air Controller (Airborne) or FAC(A) and Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR) for Coalition fast jets (such as USAF F-16CGs and F-16CJs, RAAF F/A-18As and RAF Tornado GR-4s) deployed to Al Udeid.

The VF-154 Tomcats crews also had to train USAF F-15E crews to conduct FAC(A) and SCAR missions.

During this shore-based period a VF-154 F-14A (BuNo 158620 callsign “Nite 104”) crashed because he suffered a single engine and fuel transfer system failure forcing the crew to eject.

However during this special period the five Black Knights’ crews were able to accomplish more than 300 combat hours dropping more than 50,000 lbs of ordnance.

These results were possible even if the Tomcat had some disadvantages when compared directly to some of the attack planes mentioned above: for example, the Strike Eagle has a maximum payload far superior than the one of the Tomcat and the F-14A could only employ Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) and it was not able to use Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) due to a lack of a digital databus (the Bs and Ds-models Tomcat could use JDAMs).

Still, the F-14 had also some advantages: the AN/AAQ-25 LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting, Infrared, for Night) pod used by Tomcat crews was more capable than the USAF’s AN/AAQ-14 and also than the first AN/AAQ-28s Litening II. In fact the AN/AAQ-25 provided the Tomcat with the capability to point the pod to chosen waypoints without the employment of radar, an ability that the F-15E didn’t have. The F-14s were also equipped with a Programmable Tactical Information Display System (PTIDS) and 20 cm X 20cm screen that provided the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) with a better display than the Weapons System Officer (WSO) in the F-15E.

All these features made the F-14 a really impressive attack platform- as a Tomcat driver once explained: “With the Strike Eagle you can put the bomb on the building. With the Tomcat you’ re putting the bomb into the third window from the left, from miles away”.

Dario Leone for The Aviationist.com

Image credit: U.S. Navy

Tony Scott, Hank Kleeman, Kara Hultgreen and the F-14 Tomcat: three (tragic) stories and a legendary plane

Few days ago, Dario Leone, a long time reader and a huge F-14 Tomcat fan, sent me an email to point out what he had noticed about the date Tony Scott, the famous director of “Top Gun”, chose  to commit suicide.

He had observed that Aug. 19 was the 31th anniversary of the day when two F-14s downed two Libyan fighters in 1981 (something that Scott, most probably, didn’t even know) and provided some interesting news about the fate of the two Tomcats involved in the dogfight and their crew members.

“Top Gun is the film that made the F-14 famous all around the world. Downings and crashes aside, aircraft depicted in the movie were true and they were driven by real pilots of the U.S. Navy belonging to VF-51 Screaming Eagles […] In a certain way, Tony Scott brought on the big screens what had happened on Aug. 19, 1981,” Leone wrote to me.

On that day, two F-14A Tomcats belonging to the VF-41 Black Aces and launched from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68 ) were attacked on the Gulf of Sidra by two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 and shot them down with two AIM-9L air-to-air missiles just 45 seconds after the first Libyan fighter opened fire (Rules Of Engagement were the same as in the film, namely: “do not fire until fired upon”).

One of the two aircraft was the BuNo 160403, callsign “Fast Eagle 102”, with Cdr. Hank Kleeman and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) Lt. Dave Venlet on board.

“Kleeman is famous in the Tomcat community not only for being the first pilot to score a kill with the F-14 but also for getting  the Secretary of the Navy’ s approval for the F-14D four years later. Unfortunately he died in a landing accident (plane hydroplaned off the side of the wet runway, then flipped over) at NAS Miramar on an F/A-18A Hornet (BuNo 162435).”

The other Tomcat involved in the Aug. 19, 1981 dogfight was BuNo 160390, callsign “Fast Eagle 107”, piloted by Lt. Larry “Music” Muczynski and Lt. Dave Anderson as RIO.

“That plane earned the headlines again on Oct. 25, 1994 when, piloted by Lt. Kara “Revlon” Hultgreen, U.S. Navy’s first female F-14 pilot, crashed into the sea while landing aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, off San Diego. While her RIO, Lt. Matthew P. Klemish, ejected safely she didn’t survive the ejection.”

As a consequence of the incident, two separate investigations were conducted.

“The Judge Advocate General (JAG) cited a technical malfunction as the root cause of the crash whereas the Navy Mishap Investigation Report (MIR) came to the conclusion that it was a pilot error to induce the fatal left engine stall.”

Until the latter was leaked, the JAG version was Navy’s official position on the mishap.

The video below includes footage of Kara Hultgreen’s incident.

“There are dates that seem to mark the path of the life of people and their destiny. In this case, August 19th has not only marked in a way or another one the fate of some people, but also the history of a legendary plane, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.”

Boeing test flies India’s first Poseidon next generation anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft

Jul. 7, 2012 saw the first example of eight Boeing’s P-8I (a variant of the US Navy’s P-8A Poseidon) long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft India has ordered, make its first flight from Boeing Field in Seattle.

Image credit: Boeing

The three 3h 49m flight was designed to demonstrate the handling characteristics of the modified 737-800 and met all of the test objectives.

“Today’s flight is another on-time milestone for the program. We’ll start out testing the P-8I’s mission system, which includes its sensors and communication systems. The team will then transition to ‘stores’ tests during which the P-8I will carry inert weapon shapes under its wings to demonstrate that the aircraft is capable of carrying all of the weapons the Indian Navy will use during regular missions” Leland Wight, Boeing’s P-8I program manager for the P-8I program, said.

The second example has been built and will also enter testing in the coming weeks, with the first example to be delivered during 2013.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

India Navy IN321 / N521DS

Image credit: Drewski2112/Flickr

U.S. Navy replenishes its stock of Tomahawk long-range, conventional attack, cruise missiles. Getting ready for new initial air strikes?

All the most recent conflicts have started with a storm of cruise missiles against fixed enemy targets. The war in Libya is just the last of a long series of campaigns or raids in which Tomahawk missiles have been used to wipe out the opponent’s air defenses, before the first combat planes entered the enemy air space.

Therefore, such cruise missiles stocks are being replenished.

Raytheon have just won a $337.8 million for 361 additions to the Tomahawk fleet of the U.S Navy, split into 238 RGM-109 missiles that are launched from the Vertical Launch System (VLS) on surface ships, and 123 UGM-109 that are launched from submarines equipped with the Capsule Launch System (CLS).

Block IV missile have been upgraded in many ways.

Other than cost savings (unit price has nearly halved from Block III examples), the most important new capability the Block IVs brought to the Naval fleet is the new two-way satellite data link, which gives the cruise missile the ability to change target whilst in flight.

Indeed, the new missile has an operator that can redirect the Tomahawk toward pre-planned alternate targets, and even loiter over a certain area waiting for a new target of opportunity. Moreover, through the data link, the Block IV missile can upload imagery and health status messages to the control station so as to give the operator the ability to change the mission in accordance with the battlefield and cruise conditions.

The new Tomahawk also features an anti-jam GPS receiver for enhanced accuracy.

Most of the U.S. Navy’s missiles are launched from surface ships such as the Ticonderoga Class cruisers and Arleigh Burke Class destroyers as well as Los Angeles, Virginia and Seawolf Classes subs. However, in the future, the Tomahawks will be fired by the Ohio Class stealth strike submarines with the capability to launch more than 150 cruise missiles each!

Such platforms will surely be involved in the opening shots of any future conflicts.

Image credit: U.S. Navy