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Fast Movers

Luftwaffe and RAF Pilot Team In First Ever Joint Combat Patrol

Friday, April 9th, 2010

This is kind of a cool item from the UK’s Daily Mail, for the first time since the two air arms fought each other in the skies over Europe during World War II, an RAF flight lieutenant piloted a Tornado GR4 fighter-bomber on a combat mission over Afghanistan with a Luftwaffe navigator in the rear seat. British and German airmen have flown together on C-130 flights, but this was the first joint combat mission. The fact that the Luftwaffe hasn’t actually flown any out of country combat missions since, what 1945, probably explains why it took so long, rather than any lingering resentment over World War II. Update: As one commenter pointed out, the Luftwaffe flew strike missions in the 1999 Kosovo air war. Okay, maybe it is about lingering resentment.

– Greg

Russian F-22 (PAK-FA) First Test Flight Revealed

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Thanks to several tipsters who alerted me to the public release of a test flight of the Russian 5th-generation fighter prototype: the so-called PAK-FA, or in English, “Future Air Complex for Tactical Air Forces.” Some observers also show it dubbed the T-50.

It looks as if the Russians are trying their hand at an F-22 knock off, with a v-tail, large monolithic wing surface and centerboard intakes. The thing literally looks like a Mig-29 cockpit bolted onto a hacked F-22 stern.

According to Global Security​.org, the Sukhoi-built PAK-FA sports two giant AL-41F engines and has a crub weight of about 40,000 pounds — a bit less than the F-22.

Given the budgetary hassles surrounding the American F-22 program and the trajectory that tactical aviation is taking into the UAV world, it stands to reason that Russia slash Sukhoi may run into the same sticker shock LockMart is encountering with American taxpayers. I hear that India is playing some role in the development of the PAK-FA, so that may help defray the costs and justify continued development.

But wasn’t it Russia that developed the simple, reliable, cost-efficient Kalashnikov? Why are they always trying to play on the wiz-bang high-tech turf America has dominated for the last 50 years in high-end military hardware? I guess it’s more a question of what the big-money buyers want (China, India), rather than what’s worked best in the past.

– Christian

Banging Trons in The Stan

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

I just saw a short profile story from Navy PAO about VAQ-135, a Prowler squadron stationed aboard the USS Nimitz, and it got me thinking.

So the article is pretty vanilla…

“Our main focus of effort is to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum. That means we preserve it for coalition forces, and we deny its use to Afghan insurgents. If we can successfully do that, many times the ground commander may not need a bomb,” said Lt. Cmdr. Blake Tornga, maintenance officer from VAQ-135.

The missions Prowlers fly directly support the July 2009 tactical directive issued by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

What they mean by “tactical directive” is to limit collateral damage, so the PA who wrote the story is ham-handedly trying to highlight the Prowlers’ efforts as limiting the “kinetic” side of the Naval aviation equation. That’s all well and good, but of course — as with anything in “print” involving this community — there are no specifics in here. “Dominate the electromagnetic spectrum” has a lot of meanings, but what are they specifically for Afghanistan?

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Afghanistan, but back in 2004 the Prowlers were flying mostly communications intercept missions, though I got this second hand from ground pounders since when I asked if I could interview the Prowler drivers at Bagram the PAO said “what Prowlers,” those ones on the tarmac there, I said…“I don’t see any prowlers” he deadpanned without looking toward the runway (nuf said). Now, I wonder if that’s all they’re doing as well, or are there enough electronic detonators for IEDs that the Prowlers are jamming signals or throwing out electrons to detonate the roadside bombs before friendlies get there. From this quote, it seems like that might just be what they’re doing…

“There are very few electronic attack platforms out there,” said Tornga. “We are the only tactical electronic attack platform. Mountain valleys, small turns, staying tight with a convoy, that mission right now can only be done with the EA-6B.”

So they’re escorting convoys? And conducting electronic “attack.” Now we’ll start to see IEDs rigged with pressure plates and IR trips that are signal neutral.

And the best line by far:

“Some of the real-time feedback we get from the ground troops after a successful mission makes me realize why we need to be here, and it makes this deployment very, very meaningful.”

Like “thanks for blowing up that freaking bomb before my MRAP got to it!”

(Gouge: NC)

– Christian

VTOL JSF Arrives at Pax River

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

BF-1-at-PAX

The first production model F-35B arrived in the ‘hood last Sunday.  BF-1 will begin the JSF’s developmental test program in the next few weeks, including vertical takeoffs and landings.  Meanwhile DoD reports show the program is behind schedule and over budget – not a good place to be these days (just ask the F-22 or Presidential Helo guys).  And adding to the bad press is a report from the UK Register that says both the V-22 and JSF have a problem with melting flight decks at sea.  (Surprise … er, I mean, “No comment.”)

So enjoy this happy snap.  We’re trying to get over to Pax to get some more before manned flight goes away altogether, which may be sooner than planned if the acquisition professionals don’t get their acts together.

(Gouge — NC)

– Ward

National Guard Hornets?

Friday, August 7th, 2009

hornet.jpg
Congress Daily (subscription required) reports the following:

As the Air National Guard grapples with an impending fighter jet shortfall that will threaten its ability to protect U.S. airspace, its supporters in Congress and the Pentagon want the Air Force to consider all possible solutions — even buying Navy F-18s to fill the gap.

Lawmakers and other National Guard boosters are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Defense Department and the Air Force, charging that officials have no workable plan to deal with the Guard’s aging fleet.

They argue that 80 percent of the Air Guard’s F-16s, which fly the majority of Air Sovereignty Alert missions, will retire years before their replacements are ready, depleting units of the aircraft they need to secure domestic airspace.

The workhorse F-15 fleet isn’t in much better shape, having been grounded for three months after one broke apart in November 2007 during a training mission over eastern Missouri.

As a result, the Air Force, the service funded to supply airplanes to the Air National Guard, is being told by Congress to explore every option, including buying F/A-18s.
The article goes on to say:

Boeing said it hasn’t had any discussions with the National Guard about the F-18s. But one defense official said it’s an area the Air Force should review.

“I think the taxpayer demands we look at this because it’s an efficient, highly capable aircraft that can sustain our force structure through this risky period,” the official said.

The Air Force is focusing its budgets on the F-35, which eventually will make its way to the Air Guard. But leaders insist they are open to other solutions, if necessary.

Of course the Air Guard has shared type/model/series with the Navy before in the form of A-1s, A-7s, and F-4s.

At the same time, if I’m a Guard pilot, fighter gap or no, I’m hoping the Air Force holds out for the JSF.

(Gouge: NC)

– Ward

Russian Mystery Plane

Monday, July 20th, 2009

A reader sent me the following picture reportedly of Sukhoi’s first attempt at a stealth aircraft and the Russians’ latest challenger to the F-22.

Looks like the PAK-FA is just ‘paper airplane’ to me, but I’d love some reader input on this.
PAK-FA.jpg

(Gouge: CF)

– Christian

Israel Can Go the Distance

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Last week, Time Magazine reported that an Israeli airstrike in the Sudan involved “dozens of aircraft.” The raid knocked back a sizable overland arms shipment from Iran to the Gaza Strip, but –more importantly– demonstrated just how far (literally) the Israelis are willing to go to break stuff that makes them nervous.
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. The distance between Tel Aviv and Khartoum is roughly the same as Tel Aviv and Tehran, with most of Iran’s nuclear facilities located in the western half of the country. Though the IAF’s fleet has boasted KC-130H tankers for some time, whether or not Israel had the lungs for such a distant strike was arguable. Now, the debate is over.
Sure the successful strike doesn’t satisfy the question of Iran’s robust IAD network (Sudan doesn’t have one), nor does it offer any insight into a safe ingress/egress route in and out of Iran. But, it does show the Israelis have the legs –and the stones– to prosecute the fight over long distances, and refuel their strike aircraft in close proximity to their Arab neighbors.
Aside: IAF tankers flew a refueling track over the Red Sea, smack in the middle of Egyptian and Saudi airspace. The Egyptians fly F-16s that are a similar, though inferior, variant of the Israeli F-16i, and the Saudis fly AWACs guided F-15s.
I’ve heard rumors that the IAF was ready to knock back Nataz yesterday, should they hear the trumpet’s blast. Even though these guys have proven time and time again that failure isn’t in their vocabulary, factoring in distance and enemy defenses left me skeptical. Now? Hey, I’m a believer.
And just for fun…


–John Noonan

Now Aussie Pilots Can Suck and Still Kill MiGs

Friday, March 6th, 2009

aussie hornet.jpg
Are you a ham-fisted goon who lacks situational awareness and is just happy to walk away from each hop with all the big pieces still on the jet? Well, if so, the Royal Australian Air Force wants you!

This from Epicos​.com:

In a world first for an Air Force and an infra-red guided missile, Air Combat Group (ACG) of the Royal Australian Air Force has successfully carried out the first in-service ‘Lock After Launch’ firing of an ASRAAM (Advanced short-range air-to-air missile) at a target located behind the wing-line of the “shooter” aircraft. The firing was conducted from an F/A-18 fighter aircraft, at low level and typical fighter speed, at a target located behind the fighter at a range in excess of 5km. The result was a direct hit on the target.

The engagement simulated a “chase down” situation by an enemy fighter and successfully demonstrated the potential for an all-round self protection capability with the ASRAAM. This capability is inherent on all platforms that provide pre-launch ‘over the shoulder’ designation information such as F/A-18, Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 JSF.

So this settles it once and for all. We no longer care about Ps curves and air-to-air performance of the airplane. I don’t want to debate who would win a 1-v-1 between a MiG-37 and a JSF. It just doesn’t matter.

Here’s a new bumper sticker idea (this year’s “My other car is an F-18″): “My ASRAAM missile hides the fact that I’m a grape.”

(Gouge: NC)

– Ward

Pilot Error Caused SD Hornet Crash

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

san-diego-crash.jpg

[From the front page of Military​.com]

A pilot struggling to control a crippled Marine Corps jet bypassed a chance to land at a coastal Navy base and instead flew toward an inland base, where minutes later the fighter crashed into a San Diego neighborhood and killed four people, recordings released Tuesday revealed.

Meanwhile, military officials say that four officers at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar have been relieved of duty in connection with the fatal crash and nine other military personnel received lesser reprimands. Officials said the 13 were disciplined for a series of avoidable mechanical and human errors that led to the crash, which killed four members of the same family, including two children.

“It was collectively bad decision-making,” said Col. John Rupp, operations officer for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE

Recordings of conversations between federal air controllers and the pilot of the F/A-18D Hornet show the pilot repeatedly was offered a chance to land the plane at the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado. The base sits at the tip of a peninsula with a flight path over water.

Instead, the Federal Aviation Administration tapes disclose, the pilot decided to fly the jet, which had lost one engine and was showing signs of trouble with the second, to the inland Miramar base, which is about 10 miles north of Coronado.

That route took him over the University City neighborhood, where the Dec. 8 crash incinerated two homes and damaged three others.

“This was a tragic incident that could have been prevented,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who was among the lawmakers who received a closed-door briefing Tuesday on the results of the Marine Corps’ investigation into the crash, said in a statement.

The pilot and senior officers “did not consult their checklists and follow appropriate procedure,” Hunter said. Had those rules been followed, “the crash would not have occurred.”

(more…)

Which to Kill: Raptor or Lightning Deus?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

f22raptor.jpg
Okay, folks, something’s gotta give, money-wise. As we dicussed in a recent post and podcast, the VH-71 is in the crosshairs for severe reductions if not outright cancellation. These are bad times to be a program 100 percent over budget and a couple of years behind schedule.

Moreover, these are bad times PERIOD. Now I understand that the JSF and F-22 are designed to meet separate Air Force requirements. The JSF meets the LOW requirement and replaces the F-16; the F-22 meets the HIGH requirement and replaces the F-15. But the fiscal situtation now and in the FYDP might not support both.

We had a similar situation back in the day when carrier aviation, due to budget concerns primarily, was forced to choose between the A-6 and the F-14. Long story short, the Intruder went away and the Navy enhanced the Tomcat’s resident bombing capability. (The rest is OEF and OIF history, of course.)

JSF.jpg

So with Christian on the road for the next few days and me minding the store, I wanted to open up the discussion to you guys, the awesome and erudite in defense matters DT readers. What do you think? If the USAF decison-makers are made to choose one or the other, which should they pick?

Wikipedia (the source of all modern knowledge) “apples-to-apples” unit flyaway price comparison: F-22 - $137.5 million; JSF - $83 million. And I know the Raptor does things the JSF doesn’t, but does that capability validate the additional cost considering the current (and projected) threat and budgetary situation?

The comments board is now open.

– Ward