Category: Uncategorized

Rare Eagles: Unusual F-15 variants

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When the F-15 Eagle entered production, Nixon was in office. Now, 47 years later, it is still in production, and in 2019 the United States Air Force requested a radically modernised version, the F-15EX. The reason for its longevity? The Eagle can do almost anything that is asked of it. 

 

McDonnell Douglas F-15N Sea Eagle

The effort to replace the F-4 Phantom II in US Navy service had been tortuous. The overweight overly-complex F-111B failed, and in the early 70s its successor the nascent F-14 was also struggling. McDonnell Douglas stepped in offering the F-15N, based on their yet-to-fly F-15A. It had much going for it, being a simpler design than the F-14, with better engines. However, adding a heavy naval landing gear, folding wings for deck stowage and the hugely complicated AWG-9/AIM-54 weapon system — an extremely long range radar/missile combo — would have added so much weight and involved so much work it would have mitigated any advantages the Sea Eagle might have enjoyed. McDonnell Douglas then proposed dumping the AN/AWG-9 radar in exchange for a modified version of the Eagle AN/APG-63 radar adjusted to work with the Phoenix, but the Navy preferred to soldier on with the Tomcat. Had the Sea Eagle succeeded, Top Gun would have been a film about Eagles. That the Russians and Chinese have subsequently successfully adapted the ‘Flanker’ to carrier life is evidence that the Sea Eagle concept was not crazy.

We asked an F-15 pilot how confident he would be going against a Flanker, his answer here

Streak Eagle 

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In 1975 the US wanted to show off what the new F-15 could do, so they set about creating an especially fast Eagle to break world records and garner global exposure. Now they didn’t exactly cheat, but the machine — the Streak Eagle — was considerably lighter than an operational aircraft.

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Every possible act of weight reduction took place — the following were all removed: the flap and speed brake actuators, the M61A1 Vulcan 20-mm cannon and its associated systems, one generator, the radar and fire control systems, most of the cockpit displays — even the radios and the paint! And though special measuring equipment was added the aircraft was still extremely light. It had shed approximately 1,800 pounds (817 kilograms), giving it a monstrous thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.4:1. The Streak Eagle succeeded in shattering a series of world records.

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F-15 ‘Satellite Killer’

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The F-15 is the only fighter to have shot down a satellite, something it did in 1985. The weapon for this test was the ASM-135 ASAT designed to destroy Soviet communications-, spy-  and ‘killer’ satellites. To launch the weapon required the specially modified F-15 to climb to 80,000ft, an extreme altitude unachievable in most other aircraft. The United States Air Force wanted 20 F-15A fighters and 112 missiles for the mission and had begun to modify the fleet when ASAT was axed.  It was cancelled for several reasons, including rising costs, international laws intended to limit space warfare and fears that the destruction of multiple satellites could lead to a belt of orbiting debris that could potentially destroy everything else in orbit.

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The F-15 Short Takeoff and Landing and Maneuver Technology Demonstrator

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In 1984 McDonnell Douglas was tasked with a creating an experimental aircraft that could “land and take-off from sections of wet, bomb-damaged runway under bad weather conditions and severe crosswinds without active ground-based navigational assistance.”  NASA had been studying the idea of fitting thrust vectoring nozzles to the F-15 since the 1970s, and this new test machine (an adapted F-15B) – fitted with canard foreplanes-  was dubbed the F-15STOL/MTD. It was first flown with the low-observable thrust-vectoring nozzles in 1989 and the results were remarkable, according to NASA,Test flights demonstrated a 25-percent reduction in takeoff roll, and the thrust-reversing feature made it possible for the F-15 to land on just 1,650 ft of runway… In addition, thrust reversal was used during up-and away flight to produce rapid decelerations—a useful feature for close-in air-to-air combat. During the flight program, the F-15 STOL/MTD made vectored takeoffs with rotation demonstrated at speeds as low as 42 mph. The program ended on August 15, 1991, after accomplishing all of the flight objectives.”

Rarely discussed but equally amazing- “The most impressive research results in flight dynamics, however, occurred when the Langley researchers equipped the free-flight model with special 2-D nozzles that provided thrust vectoring in yaw as well as pitch. The superior control provided by the multiaxis vectoring was demonstrated when the model was easily flown at angles of attack up to about 85 deg without vertical-tail surfaces.”

 

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ACTIVE 

In 1993, the  STOL/MTD left USAF and was acquired by NASA, which renamed it the F-15 ACTIVE (Advanced Control Technology for Integrated VEhicles). NASA used the ACTIVE to test several things, including testing new round 3D thrust vectorers. These could support up to 20 degrees of thrust vectoring in any direction. These nozzles were mounted to stock F100-229 engines and were barely heavier than the standard nozzles. The project bears interesting comparison with the Russian Sukhoi ‘Flankers’ that have entered service with 3D vectored thrust nozzles (some of which also have canard foreplanes). 

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Later in life, the ACTIVE was used to test the next-generation of flight control systems, with the ‘Terminator-like’ ability to learn and analyse the flight properties of the aircraft. In theory, these would allow a pilot to control the aircraft during an emergency by customising thrust vectoring and control surfaces to compensate for specific unpredicted battle damage. The aircraft would be flying in a way it had not flown before, adapting to conditions as they happened.

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The aircraft was finally retired on January 30, 2009. During its service it had tested propulsion and flight control systems as well as high altitude sensors and communication equipment. It made a major contribution to advanced tactical fighter research. 

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Quiet Spike 

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Supersonic flight is largely banned over land as the ‘sonic boom’ produced by an aircraft breaking the sound barrier is loud and potentially destructive. This –somewhat controversial – limitation severely limited Concorde’s success. Gulfstream Aerospace want to bring back supersonic air travel but believe the only way to do this is to make it quieter. They thus teamed with NASA to work on a way to acoustically shape the sonic booms to reduce the noise. The idea was to shape the shock waves with a huge retractable boom on the nose of an aircraft. To test the plausibility of this, a NASA F-15B was selected modified with the semi-retractable ‘spike’ and flew 50 flights from 2006 to 2007. How well this is worked is unclear: a 2013 statement by Gulfstream noted supersonic air travel was still unlikely unless the boom could be reduced. Two x-planes will continue research in this field – the Gulfstream X-54 and the Lockheed Martin Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST.

F-15 2040C

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Stealth fighters that must carry their weapons internally, like the F-22, do not have enough missiles to fully exploit their potential. One solution to this is for stealth aircraft to work in conjunction with conventional fighters with large weapon loads. The 2040C, proposed by Boeing in 2017, demonstrates this idea taken to an extreme boasting the ability to carry sixteen air-to-air missiles. The aircraft would communicate to Raptors via the cutely named Talon HATE communications pods.

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F-15SE Silent Eagle 

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An early F-15SE Silent Eagle concept featuring canted vertical fins.

When Boeing started publicising the F-15 Silent Eagle in 2009 it was considered by many as a joke – a ‘stealthy’ version of the notoriously radar conspicuous F-15 seemed hard to take seriously. As did the idea that adding a ton of RCS measures including canted vertical fins, new electronics, an internal weapons bay, the addition of a great deal of advanced Radar Absorbent Material to an aircraft without a USAF order would actually end up being any cheaper than the F-35 it was supposed to counter on price. The world agreed, and despite some interest from Israel and South Korea (who were scared of its potential cost and preferred a less radical Eagle) – no orders have transpired. The project was not a waste of time though – Boeing’s continued aggressive push of the Eagle resulted in new advanced variants and a very significant order by USAF for the F-15X.

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Sadly, we are way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going.

Thank you. 

There’s also a Patreon option if you prefer that (few have gone for that option so far as I haven’t really pushed it yet) 

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Pre-production F-15B No. 2 with artist’s impression of 2D nozzle, c. early 1980s (USAF S/N 71-0291)

 

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Interview with a Gripen pilot

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Tiny, smart and capable, the Swedish Gripen C is a bantamweight fighter aircraft with a big punch. The Gripen E now in development is a bigger aircraft, close in weight to the F-16. We spoke to SAAB test pilot Jonas Jakobsson about flying a machine that emphasises brains over brawn. 

Gripen is a fascinating aircraft, lambasted by the Swiss air force evaluation and loved by its pilots and operators, it does things in a different way. Connectivity, situational awareness and other boring sounding concepts are prioritised over power and speed, resulting in a machine that is cheap to operate and capable of delivering nasty surprises to opponents that underestimate it. Though only around 250 Gripens have been built since production begun in 1987 it has earned Saab an excellent reputation as one of the few aircraft manufacturers that stay close to running timely projects on budget (a key reason for Boeing choosing to partner with Saab for its winning T-X trainer). But is its good reputation just another example of Sweden’s slickness in public relations? Over to Jonas Jakobsson.

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Jonas Jakobsson (middle) with former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

What is your name, rank, unit and hours on Gripen C?

“My name is Jonas Jakobsson and I’m a Major (ret.) and currently an experimental test pilot working at SAAB. I’ve flown well over 1000h in Gripen.”

Which other aircraft types have you flown?

“During air force training I flew Beagle Bulldog (SK61) and SAAB 105 (SK60). My first aircraft as an operational pilot was the strike fighter version of Viggen (AJ-37) which later was upgraded to AJS-37 indicating that it also had recce capability. I’ve also flown Lansen, Draken, and all the other versions of Viggen. During my career as a testpilot I have also flown a number of helicopters, fighters and trainers.”

What were you first impressions of the Gripen?

“That it was a true pilot’s aircraft. I really felt that handling the aircraft out to the very edge of the allowed envelope was made really easy by the flight control system. The way information was fused and presented was also very intuitive. This has been a hallmark of SAAB aircraft for a long time. I think much due to the fact that Swedish fighters traditionally are single seat. A good Human Machine Interface compensated for the second pilot…”

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How would you rate the Gripen in the following categories:

A. Instantaneous Turn rates

B. Sustained turn rates

C. Acceleration

D. Climb rate

E. Range

“Without mentioning specific numbers since this would be classified I would like to expand the question a bit. We have built Gripen to achieve the highest possible operational effect in a number of scenarios defined by our customers. To do this we have to balance a number of factors such as platform performance, sensor performance, weapon performance, avionics, Human Machine Interface etc. The classic metaphor stating that a chain isn’t stronger than its weakest link is relevant for fighters as well! So the answer would be; platform performance is as good as or better than what is needed to reach the high overall operational effect demand of a future fighter.”

(Though Jonas avoids answering this question directly I would like to quote from this article “Gripen is a bit of an unknown quantity against modern air superiority machines because it takes a fundamentally different approach to survivability. Whilst in traditional DACT exercises, Typhoon pilots have often referred to the Gripen as ‘cannon-fodder’ due to its inferior thrust-to-weight ratio, speed, agility and armament, in the few cases where the Gripen has ‘come to play’ with its full electronic warfare capabilities, it has given Typhoons very nasty shocks. Against the Su-35S, Gripen would rely on the cutting edge EW capabilities which Saab builds the Gripen (especially the new E/F) around to hide the aircraft from the sensors of the Russian jets in much the same way as the Raptor relies on x-band stealth. These EW capabilities are so highly classified that there is simply no way to assess their effectiveness in the public domain. Having said that, RAF pilots who I have talked to with experience of the Saab fighter’s EW teeth first hand say that the ability of the aircraft to get alarmingly close without detection thanks entirely to EW is very impressive.” The answer that modern air combat has greater emphasis on fighting at a distance is not just an avoidant answer, but if the Gripen was a very energetic aircraft Saab would be keen to share this, as Eurofighter is with the Typhoon. It is however understood that Gripen has a particularly good instantaneous turn rate. )

What are the best and worst aspects of the Gripen?

“I personally thoroughly enjoy the incredibly well designed HMI which makes it possible for me as a pilot to process enormous amounts of information and really interpret the tactical relevance of this information. The worst aspect of Gripen to me personally is that we are building such a fantastic and futuristic system but it is all on the inside so to speak. This makes it all a bit abstract and difficult to explain the full potential of the aircraft.”

 How would a Gripen do in the following against a Block 52 F-16?

A. WVR combat

B. BVR combat

C. Situational awareness

E. maintainability- cost of ownership?

“Generally we stay away from direct comparisons but if I were to compare Gripen to other fighters in general I would say that I have already touched on one of the subjects you ask about. Situational awareness in Gripen E is outstanding! All the way from the sensor suite (radar, IRST, missile approach warner, radar warner etc), the local fusion of sensor data in every Gripen, the global fusion of data shared within the tactical air unit (and C2) and via the HMI with the elaborate symbology and wide area display. This information chain and the situational awareness it creates is rally the foundation that all fighting rests on. With this said it comes as no surprise that I think that Gripen helps me as a pilot to perform really well in both BVR and WVR.

 

The Swedish defense traditionally relied heavily on conscript personnel for tasks such as aircraft line maintenance. The operational doctrine of the Swedish air force also included operating from dispersed bases, basically a runway in the forest with no workshops or hangars. These two facts have been part of our design-genome for many years now. The result is that Gripen is very easy to maintain and also very fast to turn around between sorties. Generally we say that time for turnaround between two air-to-air sorties is done in 10 minutes and that is including both refueling and rearming! Ease of maintenance i.e. few hours to fix a potential problem and long mean time between failure add up to a high availability and low cost of ownership.”

 Just how good is the Meteor-armed Gripen at BVR combat? Has it a big enough radar to take full advantage?

“Absolutely! The radar is well balanced with the weapon reach. But the radar is far from the only source of information we use to get target data…”

(By this I understand he is referring to the other sensors and information data-linked to the aircraft from off-board sources.)

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“A number of sorties comes to mind, my first display with the SwAF display team, my very first solo sortie at the air force academy, QRA sorties during the cold war when the Baltic was buzzing with activity or when I got to bring my children up in a jet trainer. But if I had to pick one sortie I think it would be something very different. About 10 years ago I was assigned to 2 Squadron in the South African Air force. My mission was to train the first South African group of pilots on Gripen. After a successful training and 18 months in the country I was about to move back to Sweden. One final sortie remained. It was a night flight and the weather was fantastic with stars everywhere. I spent that hour and a half cruising among the stars and contemplating what a fantastic job I have. When heading back to home base the mission controller greeted me with a cheerful “welcome back to earth sir”. I think the combination of a beautiful scenario and the end of a great mission all added up and made it a very emotional sortie.”

What is the biggest myth about Gripen?

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“Actually haven’t heard so much negative. Maybe people are too polite to tell me. But I think one might be that a lot of people have the conception that Gripen E only is a slight upgrade to Gripen C because of their similarities in appearance. Nothing could more wrong! It is a totally new aircraft, albeit based on the same general aerodynamic design as Gripen C.”

 One Typhoon pilot described Gripen as ‘easy meat’, how would Gripen perform in BFM against the following types? Typhoon, Rafale, Hornet, MiG-29 and F-22.

“Again no direct comparison but as I said above, the one with the best information wins the fight. It’s been a fact since world war one and still is. The only difference is how the information is gathered. In the old days looking with your eyes, today and in the future sensors and fusion of sensor data. The classic BFM I would say is no more and if you try it you die. In a world of high of boresight missiles, such as IRIS-T, data-link cueing and helmet mounted displays the within visual range fight looks more and more like a mini-BVR fight.”

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Never let it be said that Europeans don’t love a delta. Typhoons, Gripens and a lone Mirage 2000.

What should I have asked you?

“What’s the best thing about being a Gripen test pilot?

The possibility to influence the future design and functionality of Gripen. I think all fighter pilots can relate to this. During training and operational use of the aircraft every pilot formulates his/her ideas of how to improve the design and functionality and now I really get to this. It’s also a huge responsibility. It’s important that I can meet fellow pilots in the air force and feel that we met their demands and built the most pilot friendly and operationally efficient aircraft possible.”

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The first Saab Gripen E for Brazil is in final assembly. Saab hopes to deliver the first test aircraft to Brazil this year, with operational aircraft following from 2021. Brazil should receive 36 Gripen E/Fs between 2019 and 2024. Image source: Saab

What equipment would you like to see integrated into Gripen?

“Weirdly enough I will answer more computer power and unlimited broad band data-links. I think this is the key to success in a future scenario. The things you can do with computational power and data sharing is astounding and we are a good way down that path with Gripen E but you always want more. Luckily some clever engineer foresaw this and designed the avionics to be basically plug and play with both new software and hardware!”

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Thoughts on Gripen

Politics is the biggest decider in arms deals, so what are the political advantages of going Swedish? One may be that for some nations it is a less inflammatory move than purchasing from the US and Russia. But is the Gripen independent from the US? In the past the US has beat down potential rivals to its commercial dominance by refusing export licences (something it may have done in the 1990s with AMRAAM during the search for the next Finnish fighter). Though Gripen E will have European missiles (Meteor & IRIS-T) and radar — it has a US-licensed engine and will probably use US guided munitions (Paveway and JDAM) as well as a US or Israeli targeting pod. Also despite Saab’s streamline, unbloated, approach to manufacturing – can spare parts for an aircraft produced in tiny numbers in an expensive country be cheap?

Gripen E is likely to be far cheaper to operate than the F-35 and is likely to be the only aircraft offering comparable levels of situational awareness in the near term. This is a big plus, and this is combined with the already operational long range air-to-air Meteor missile. If Saab can keep the Gripen E price down, and a suitable political climate prevails, it should find more customers, even in a massively over-saturated market.

Sadly, we are way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going.

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F-15 versus Flanker: An Eagle pilot’s view

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Undoubtedly the two most formidable fighter aircraft of the Cold War were the US’ F-15C Eagle and the Soviet Su-27, code-named ‘Flanker’. Which would have had the upper hand in air combat? We ask former USAF F-15 pilot Paul Woodford

“The Su-27 Flanker, as a threat the USAF F-15 community needed to take seriously, emerged in the late 1980s as significant numbers of the aircraft began to be fielded. During my first two F-15 tours (Soesterberg AB NL from 1978-1982, Elmendorf AFB AK from 1982-1985), the air-to-air threats we trained against were the MiG-21 and -23. By the time I finished a joint staff tour and returned to flying Eagles in 1989, MiG-29s and Su-27s were the primary threats, and we trained seriously against them.

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If you look at publicly released figures on the F-15, the Su-27, and their weapons, you see right away the Flanker and the Eagle were evenly matched in terms of aircraft performance and weapons capability. Nevertheless, we—Eagle drivers—felt confident we would prevail in combat. This was based on our knowledge of the training hours Flanker pilots got in comparison with ours. When I started flying F-15s again, at Kadena AB on Okinawa, Japan, we trained almost exclusively against forward-firing beyond visual range threats; i.e., Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums, even though their numbers, at least in our area of operations, were small. If we could defeat aircraft similar in capability to our own, we figured, we could beat anybody.

 

We didn’t know how good the Su-27’s radar was. Ours was damn good, and we had to assume theirs was too. Our air-to-air weapons, the AIM-7M Sparrow and AIM-9M Sidewinder, were on paper evenly matched against the Su-27’s AA-10 Alamo and AA-11 Archer. An advantage the Su-27 had over us was its long-range infrared search and track (IRST) system.

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Now no one would have bet the bank on any of what I’m about to share with you. We had to assume the aircraft and its missiles were at least as good as ours, and that’s how we trained. But there were a few things most of us felt, though we rarely shared those thoughts.

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Published performance specs and numbers are always best-case, radar target acquisition and missile engagement ranges in particular. The probability of kill for our Sparrows was somewhere around 50%. Pk for the Alamo was probably similar. Short-range heat-seekers were different: the AIM-9M’s Pk was nearly 100%, and we had no reason to think the Archer was any worse. We knew the actual performance capabilities of our own aircraft and missiles were somewhat less than advertised and so, likely, were theirs. But whatever the numbers, we were probably still evenly matched.

The big difference was training. We flew, on average, three times a week, training hard against a threat as good as we were. At the time, based on intel, we knew Russian pilots were flying and training far less. Tacticians at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB in Nevada were working hard on how to beat BVR threats as capable as our own, specifically ways the F-15 and its missiles could defeat the Su-27 and its missiles. They developed what at the time was a classified technique called the f-pole manoeuvre. Basically, we’d enter the fight high, fast, and as head-on to the threat as possible (giving our AIM-7s the longest possible ranges), launch at max optimum range, and immediately crank into hard turns away, right to radar gimbal limits. Our Sparrows were in the air, flying straight at their targets along the shortest possible distance. Their missiles, had they launched at the same range, had to fly farther to get to us. The f-pole manoeuvre, properly executed, might even give their IRST systems a harder problem finding and tracking us, but I can’t attest to that. We had a lot of confidence in this technique and practiced it religiously, and believed it would make the crucial difference in combat.

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In other words, we thought we were ready for them. We were better trained.

We were just starting to field the AIM-120 AMRAAM when I left Kadena for another staff job, and I never flew with it. I’m guessing it gave us a tremendous advantage for a year or so, until the bad guys caught up. Ditto the AIM-9X and today’s enemy equivalent. And of course today everyone knows about the f-pole manoeuvre and we can assume foreign air forces train their fighter pilots in the technique.

I don’t get to talk to current USAF fighter pilots much these days, but I bet their level of confidence in being able to defeat enemy threats is no different than ours was.”

— Paul ‘Skid’ Woodford

Read – Cold War Eagle Driver: F-15 pilot reveals all here

Follow Paul’s aviation adventures on his blog here

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Sadly, we are way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going.

Thank you. 

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The 2019 India-Pakistan Kashmir Air Skirmish – what actually happened?

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I have deliberately held back from writing about the Indian-Pakistan air skirmishes as much reporting seemed a toxic blend of nationalism, sensationalist machine comparisons and baseless speculation. Now that a little time has passed I spoke to Justin Bronk from the RUSI think-tank to find out more. 

The shootdown/s – what happened?

For certain? An Indian MiG-21 Bison was shot down and crashed on the Pakistani side of the Line of Contact, presumably whilst pursuing Pakistani fast jets as they flew back to their own airspace after their signalling strike on Indian territory. It is likely, given the AIM-120 missile wreckage recovered by the Indian side with serial numbers visible (and the lack of subsequent American contradictory statements or ‘leaks’) that a Pakistani F-16 fired at least one missile towards the Indian fighters. Whether it was the one which hit the MiG-21 is another question.

Which claims are unconfirmed or suspect?
The fact that two aircraft were repeatedly reported to have been seen to fall suggests that something else was downed. The Indians do not appear to have lost an Su-30 as was claimed, but then again, if a Pakistani F-16 was indeed hit and crashed on the Pakistani side of the LOC then the ISI did a fantastic job of keeping anyone from finding and reporting on the wreckage. I’m personally inclined to think that only the MiG-21 went down but I certainly wouldn’t rule out completely that another aircraft was destroyed.

Beyond that, there are a million and a half suspect and unconfirmed claims on both sides flying around the twittersphere, mostly completely ridiculous and firmly in the realm of nationalistic shitposting.

Where did it take place?

Over the India-Pakistan LOC.

The type that shot down the IAF Bison is disputed –

-What are the benefits to India of it being an F-16?

I suppose they can feel marginally better about their aircraft being destroyed by an American-made fighter rather than a Pakistani-Chinese one?

In terms of violating terms of use, what appears to have happened (assuming an F-16 was indeed at least involved in the engagement) is that JF-17s crossed the border to carry out the strike whilst F-16s orbited as DCA to prevent any interception attempts whilst the JF-17s were on their way back to Pakistani airspace – a shrewd move as it turned out. I don’t thing that is going to be easy to prove as a ‘violation of terms of use’.
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-Which type do you believe it was?

There is evidence to suggest that an F-16 at least fired an AIM-120C towards Indian territory. Whether a JF-17 was also involved in the engagement and actually fired the missile which destroyed the Bison is something that I certainly can’t answer.

 

Greatest misunderstanding in the media?

That this engagement turned out the way it did due to the inherent advantages of one type of fighter over another. In reality this was part of a complex air engagement where ground and air based surveillance assets, electronic warfare, strike package sequencing, tactical decisions and pilot judgement all played a key role. Reducing this incident to a game of top trumps between Indian and Pakistani aircraft is missing the point. Tyler Rogoway wrote a wonderful blowout piece on this which I heartily concur with!

What could each air arm learn from the incident?

That supposedly carefully limited and calibrated punitive or signally strikes across the LOC can escalate extremely quickly and unpredictably given the performance of modern airborne sensors and missiles. Once an aircraft(s) are shot down, the domestic media on both sides will inevitably go into a feeding frenzy, and social media will erupt in a storm of fake claims, shitposting and demands for revenge. The truth will take a long time to figure out and in such a tense border situation, may not matter if things spiral out of control.

Was a PAF aircraft shot down? If so what type?

If one was, it was most likely an F-16; Indian claims were specific and supposedly based on electronic and radar signature analysis. If they are correct that an aircraft on the Pakistani side was hit, then there is little reason to suspect that their combat ID is wrong.

Are the actions of the IAF and PAF legal?

Depends which court is judging 😉

 How does PAF and IAF fighter pilot training compare?

Both are highly professional forces which have traditionally modelled themselves on the British Royal Air Force in terms of training ethos, uniform, rank structure etc. They both conduct regular exercises and training abroad and are highly thought of as professionals by the air forces who interact with them. Indian training is slightly more varied and their tactics less uniform simply as a function of the incredible number of different fast jet types they operate. However, this also gives them more opportunities for dissimilar air combat training (DACT) and to try novel approaches to each different capability set.

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Sadly, we are way behind our funding targets. This site is entirely funded by donations from people like you. We have no pay wall, adverts (any adverts you see on this page are not from us) or subscription and want to keep it that way– please donate here to keep this site going.

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2019 analysis: How good is the Block II Pakistan JF-17 fighter aircraft today compared to its peers and potential threats?

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Last year we asked Justin Bronk, from the Royal United Services Institute for his opinion on the capabilities of the JF-17s of the Pakistan Air Force. Since then the aircraft has developed, as have world events, so it seemed timely to return to Justin Bronk for a new look at the subject. 

 

What is the latest block JF-17 and how does it differ from the JF-17 discussed here?
The most modern block in service is the Block II which added aerial refuelling capability as well as recently the addition of the ASELPOD for precision-guided munitions cueing and software and countermeasures improvements. These improvements have increased the operational flexibility of the JF-17 to include longer sorties and multirole engagements with precision-guided munitions but in terms of air combat capabilities, the integration of the PL-12 will be the main enhancement before the Block III comes into service. This standard as reported will add a Helmet Mounted Display/Sight as well as an AESA radar, full glass cockpit and other small improvements.
How does the latest JF-17 compare with the following:
A. MiG-21 Bison 
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Performance is very similar – at least insofar as there is little of note to choose between the two on kinematics. The JF-17 has a slight edge in sustained turn rate especially at lower speeds but this is of marginal importance given the Bison’s Helmet Mounted Sight and R-73 combination which currently gives the latter a superior chance during a merge over the Block 1 and 2 JF-17. Both have small visual and relatively small radar cross sections.
In terms of weapons, again the picture is similar, with the R-73 and R-77 on one hand being mature and fully integrated into the Indian Bison fleet, whilst the PL-12 when fully integrated should give the JF-17 a significantly more capable long range ‘stick’.
Sensors are also comparable – both will rely heavily on information received from other assets such as ground stations, fighters with larger radar apertures and AWACS.
B. PAF F-16s
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The F-16 Block 52+ is a far superior aircraft in almost all respects besides visual signature and cost. However, with the addition of the PL-12 and ASELPOD, the JF-17 Block 2 is relatively comparable in most respects to the older F-16 Block 15 and MLU models which form the majority of Pakistan’s fleet. However, the F-16 remains a superb dogfighting aircraft, has a larger radar aperture with more power, and has more ‘grunt’ at higher altitudes above 35,000ft than the JF-17.
C. Indian Air Force Mirage 2000
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Most of what has been said above about the F-16 MLU applies equally to the IAF’s Mirage 2000s, with the exception of altitude performance, where the large delta wing of the Dassault fighter allows it to operate comfortably at up to 50,000ft where both the JF-17 and even F-16 with their higher wing loadings really start to struggle. The latest IAF upgrade standard, the Mirage 2000-I adds a more capable radar and crucially allows the integration of the MICA missile to replace the older Super 530D, keeping the aircraft roughly at a par with the JF-17/PL-12 combination at longer ranges. However, the Mirage 2000 offers a broader range of ground attack munitions – particularly Israeli SPICE munitions- than are available at present for the JF-17.
D. Sukhoi Su-30
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The Su-30 outclasses the JF-17 on almost every metric, but then the two types are not really meant to be comparable. The Flanker is a huge brute with massive thrust, agility, a very powerful radar and high costs. The JF-17 was designed as a cheap and cheerful lightweight fighter to allow Pakistan to operate a large airforce on a limited budget. Arguably the Su-30MKI is a jack of all trades but a master of none despite being fairly capable across the board, and the IAF have had serious support and maintenance issues with their large fleet. A beast of an aircraft comes with a lot of headaches.
Current Tejas
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I tend to get a lot of abuse for my views on the Tejas so I’ll be brief. The Tejas programme managers could learn from the JF-17. An absurdly long development programme and high unit costs with serious quality control issues, and all to produce something that is not a great deal better than the MiG-21 Bison it is due to replace.
What is the future for the JF-17?
An AESA radar, HMS and more weapons – possibly even the PL-15 if the airframe can handle it. China has an interest in keeping Indian air power at least partially focused on Pakistan so they have every incentive to help the Pakistani Air Force continue to develop the JF-17, especially if it involves depriving the Americans of F-16 contracts.
Is Pakistan pleased with it?
From the furore on Twitter over the recent skirmish and the supposed role of the JF-17 during that encounter; it would appear so. I have not heard many complaints from Pakistani Air Force officers about the type, but then I haven’t heard glowing praise either. Like I said, it is meant to be a cheap and cheerful lightweight fighter with the flexibility to conduct DCA and strike missions. By those metrics, it is a success.
What are the biggest difficulties facing the JF-17 fleet?
Inflated expectations on the back of the recent encounters. Don’t expect the JF-17 to suddenly become a world-beater. That’s not what it’s built for.
Do ‘top trumps’ articles on weapon systems, such as this one and others online, feed into nationalism and the normalisation of war?
Yes.
What should I have asked you?
That seems pretty comprehensive to me! Let the flaming in the comment section begin!

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Tornado F3 versus Mirage 2000: Pilot of both explains how they would fight and who would win

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What if the two most formidable European fighter aircraft of the 1980s and ’90s crossed swords? One, the Tornado ADV, was the RAF’s prime interceptor, the other — the Mirage 2000 — a masterpiece of fighter design, was the pride of the French Air France. Ian Black, flew both, and is qualified to answer. 

 

 Biggest advantage of each type?

“The Tornado F3 was designed for a specific role, UK Air Defence or to be 100% accurate: policing the UK airspace. When the RAF wanted was a replacement for the Vulcan / Canberra /Phantom FGR2/ Jaguar — it also had specific needs for a two-seat twin-engined nuclear strike aircraft (that also had a Recce role). In order to achieve the lion’s share of development rights the UK hid the fact from the other two partner nations (Italy and Germany ) that 165 of their 385 total order would be for air defence variants. So to answer the question, the biggest advantage of the F3 was that it was tailor-made for the job – day or night all-weather long range interceptor. It had a crew of two, long range un-refuelled, plus eight missiles and a gun.”

“Putting the flaps down in combat was pretty much a last ditch deal and firing a Sidewinder off the wing would probably have burnt a hole through them! In short, the F3 was best below 5000 feet.”

The Mirage 2000 was essentially a fly-by-wire Mirage III — albeit a very good one! The big advantage of the M2000 is its built by Dassault who make superb aircraft all French ! apart from the Martin Baker seat – Limitations – size the M4000 would have been perfect – only 4 missiles – and a gun

Biggest disadvantage of each type
“F3? Lack of manoeuvrability perhaps, the fact it was a fighter converted from a bomber meant its high level performance was poor.

M2000? Not a lot, though as a single-seater it had a  high workload at night or in poor weather.”
At what height and speed would each aircraft want the engagement to take place?
“The M2000 would try and go high 40,000 feet plus to maximise missile range but stay out of contrails,  the F3 would be better around 28-30,000 feet”

“The Mirage 2000 was the master of the ‘Bat Turn’, the ability to make a very quick instantaneous turn and take a shot. The big drawback was the delta wing gave huge amounts of drag, so you would bleed energy very very quickly – you had to be sure if you pulled a quick 9G turn that it was going to achieve a kill.”

How would each aircraft fight? 
“The F3 would prefer to take long range shots – ‘fire and forget’ with AMRAAM – not Sky Flash – and not get into a turning fight. The M2000 would do the same but be better placed if it got into a (close-in) fight.”

Sensors & countermeasures compared
“The F3 was very poorly placed when it entered service but after years of upgrades was second to none. The M2000 had a host of onboard jammers and infra-red decoys. In fact, the F3s Radar Warning Receiver  or Radar Homing and Warning Receiver was superior to the GR4’s.”

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Weapons compared 
“The F3 began life with four Skyflash and 2 AIM-9L sidewinders this became 4 – later on it was upgraded to take AMRAAM and ASRAAM  = both superb weapons – The 27-mm gun was also excellent and very accurate.

The Mirage 2000 had Magic 2 which was actually slightly better than the Sidewinder but during my time Matra Super 530, which was a big missile and not as agile as Skyflash or as resistant to jamming .The internal cannon on the M2000 was also very effective”

“The Mirage 2000 had Magic 2 which was actually slightly better than the Sidewinder.”

Performance compared

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“The Tornado F3 was good below 5000 feet — in fact surprisingly good. Limited to 6.9 G it could hold its own with a Hawk at low level mainly due to its RB199 104 engines. Clean in training fit it was a different aircraft to the war fit of 2250 litre tanks and eight missiles, it is often overlooked, but carrying eight missiles added a big weight penalty! The F3 would normally enter the fight wings back 67 deg or 58 deg then as the energy levels dropped off the wings would go forward to 45 with manoeuvre or 25 degrees – once you were experienced you could also use flap but it wasn’t really recommended. Putting the flaps down in combat was pretty much a last ditch deal and firing a Sidewinder off the wing would probably have burnt a hole through them! In short, the F3 was best below 5000 feet.

 

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The Mirage 2000 needed to be flown with a bit of trick flying: you had to fly it as a delta not like any other aircraft you had flown. The Mirage 2000 was the master of the ‘Bat Turn’, the ability to make a very quick instantaneous turn and take a shot. The big drawback was the delta wing gave huge amounts of drag so you would bleed energy very very quickly – so you had to be sure if you pulled a quick 9G turn that it was going to achieve a kill. Getting energy back meant unloading and putting the nose down, even though the SNECMA M53 engine was very powerful.”

 

Situational awareness
“SA in the later F3 was unequaled with its two crew and Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS).”

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Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) – a way of sharing battlespace information.

Tactical culture of likely operator
“France became immersed in NATO in the late 1970’/80s and adopted standard NATO tactics.”

Which aircraft would you choose to be in in this engagement? 
“Being honest I’d probably go to war in an F3 due to its bigger weapon load, crew of two and greater situational awareness. However, for pure fun and in a close-in visual fight: M2000 no contest.”

What should I have asked you?  
“Lots I guess, such as why would the RAF never have bought the M2000? Mainly because they need an aircraft that can sit at night over the sea in all weathers for long periods of time — and that is not the M2000.”

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The TFX stealth fighter and the rise of Turkey’s aviation industry

TFX

Despite economic recession, Turkey is investing a great deal in its aircraft industry. The most ambitious project is the TFX, a plan to build a 5th generation stealth fighter similar in size to the Eurofighter Typhoon.  We asked Arda Mevlutoglu.

“The new fighter development program, known as TFX or MMU (Milli Muharip Ucak; National Combat Aircraft) was started in 2011 with the conceptual design phase. The next stage, preliminary design phase was started in 2016 with a contract signed between Turkish Aerospace (TAI) and Undersecretariat for Defense Industries. BAE Systems was selected to support on the skills, technology and technical expertise required to deliver the programme.

maxresdefault.jpgThe TFX project calls for a twin-engine, high performance 5th generation fighter aircraft with stealth characteristics, primarily for the air-to-air mission. According to TAI data, the aircraft will be powered by two 20,000lb engines* with a service ceiling of more than 55,000ft. Maximum speed is around Mach 2 and the combat radius will be more than 600nm. Maximum take-off weight is expected to be more than 60,000lb. It has recently been announced that the roll-out of the aircraft is planned for 2023 with the maiden flight taking place in 2026 and service entry into Turkish Air Force in 2031.”

*(This week Rolls-Royce announced they were withdrawing from this project citing irreconcilable intellectual property concerns) 

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Image credit: Turkish Air Force 

 

Is it a good idea? The Turkish Air Force currently has a combat aircraft fleet of 240 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons of Block 30, 40, 50 and 50+ types as well as around 40 F-4E 2020 Terminators. The Terminators are optimised for ground strike and stand-off precision strike missions with around 35 of the Block 30’s nearing the end of their useful service lives. These two models are planned to be replaced by the F-35A. Starting from the 2030s, Block 40s, and later Block 50s, will need to be replaced — and that is where TFX comes in.

Therefore, the TFX is not an unfounded or unnecessary project. The model of it, on the other hand, is indeed ambitious.

It is true that Turkey has achieved significant progress in the past 20 years in the defence and aerospace sectors. The industry has expanded greatly and many indigenous designs have been completed and entered serial production. However, design, development, manufacture and sustainment of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft is a highly complex undertaking, requiring the existence of established infrastructure, human resource, experience pool and most importantly — financial resources. Therefore, it is practically impossible to conduct such a project without partners, as seen in the Tempest, FCAS, KFX programmes.

Officials have recently revealed that Turkey is in talks with several countries, without giving names, on establishing partnership for the development and production of the TFX.”

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What is the future of Turkey’s aerospace industry?

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“The sector has a very wide range of products and projects, such as TFX, Hurjet advanced jet training and combat aircraft, Hurkus turboprop trainer and close support aircraft, T129 Atak attack helicopter and a heavier version of it designated Atak 2, T625 Gokbey general purpose helicopter.

The Anka MALE and Bayraktar TB2 tactical unmanned aircraft systems are in active service, and have the ability to fire indigenous precision strike weapons. The next step for the industry is to mature these products, sustain itself with new projects and last (but not least) increase its footstep in the export market. So far TB2 tactical UAVs have been exported to Ukraine and Qatar, and a contract for 30 T129 attack helicopters was signed with Pakistan. The helicopter was also selected by the Philippines. Increasing export sales will guarantee the future of the industry, especially once reliance on foreign (read Western) countries in critical subsystems such as engine and electronics is overcome.”

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Arda Mevlutoglu is an astronautical engineer. He is currently working as the VP of an international trading and consultancy company, focusing on defense and aerospace sector. He is currently working as the Vice President of Defense Programs at an international trading and consultancy company. His research focuses on defence industry technology, policies and geopolitical assessments. 

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Raptors, Kawasakis…and a Martin Mariner converted into a caravan! Highlights from the 2019 Avalon Airshow

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Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. All of which make him gloriously over-qualified to be our correspondent from the Avalon 2019 airshow in Australia. 

“Every two years, a major airshow is held at Avalon, South-West of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. The show is extraordinary because, unlike Paris and Farnborough, it does not just focus on the latest aerospace industry products and systems, but also encompasses major Air Force and Scientific Technical Conferences, and showcases general aviation, home-built aircraft, classics and warbirds as well as attracting participation from regional Air Forces and manufacturers.

I have been in the habit of attending these shows whenever I can. There is always a visual feast for the photographer, but there are also items of technical interest, the rare, unusual and simply odd. As an example, here is something covering all those descriptors, and surely to be found ‘only in Australia’

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In case you are wondering, yes, that is a Martin Mariner caravan. Sold off from Lake Boga in Northern Victoria after the war, and converted into a quite colossal caravan.

This year, I attended the show on the Friday. For photographers, this is a good idea, as with the right entry ticket one can see the visiting aircraft in the slightly more relaxed atmosphere of the morning Trade Show, before the crowds are admitted at midday. Having taken a number of photos through the day, Hush-Kit has asked me to put together a top-twelve of my own choice, together with a commentary explaining why I have chosen them.

“The sheer brutality of the manoeuvre was extremely impressive, although there was a significant bleed-off  in energy”

— Jim Smith, on the F-22 display

12. Oxai Skywave

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I selected the Oxai Skywave as an example of Avalon attracting interest from the broader Asian Aerospace community. This is, I believe, the first time a Chinese light aircraft has been exhibited at a Western airshow, and is in advance of its expected participation at Oshkosh later in the year, where direct comparison with the similar Icon A5 will be possible. Apparently, the Skywave will fly over to Oshkosh from Shanghai, travelling west through Dubai, which would be an impressive achievement for this small aircraft.

The Skywave looks an attractive proposition for the reasonably active amphibious aircraft community in Australia, which already enjoys the good weather, extensive and attractive coastline and many rivers and lakes as possible operating areas. The aircraft itself is mostly Carbon-fibre, has an empty weight of only 350kg, and is Rotax-powered. Unusually, the sponsons can be removed if one wishes to operate it as a landplane.

11. Sikorsky MH-60 Romeo ‘Wherefor art thou Jin-class submarine?’

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The MH-60R is now in service with the Royal Australian Navy, and replaces the SH-70B Seahawk as the Navy’s anti-submarine and anti-shipping helicopter. At the show, the Navy gave a spirited performance showing off their new helicopter, and participated in the Capability demonstration, showing off the Joint capabilities of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). In the case of the Romeo, this included a simulated sonar dip to locate that most elusive of prey, the underground submarine!

I included the Seahawk, not just for the photo, but for fond memories of the spirited debates which always seem to accompany helicopter acquisition, not just for the ADF, but, in my experience, also for the UK Forces, and, I dare say, worldwide.

I also wanted to showcase one of the less publicised examples of the transformation in the ADF which has been in progress for the last several years. Other examples not featuring in this list include the entry to service of the P-8 Poseidon and the E-7 Wedgetail, with the latter, in particular, proving to be a very capable system, very popular with not only the RAAF, but also the USAF in coalition operations.

10. A330 MRTT refuelling boom aerodynamic fixes ‘Address: Karman street, Boomtown’ 

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As an ex-aerodynamicist I find this fascinating. The refuelling boom of another new ADF capability, the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) is loaded with flow control gizmos.

Running down the length of the boom on both sides are two perforated strakes. These, I surmise, are there to prevent the shedding of a Kármán vortex street ,which would otherwise cause lateral shaking of the boom. The strakes are perforated so that the disturbances they introduce themselves are small in scale and dissipate rapidly. The strakes are performing the same function as the spiral strakes seen on slender chimneys, but in this case, the flow direction is predictable, so a linear strake can be used.

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Further aft, the lower surface of the boom has a nice array of vortex generators. These are there to encourage the flow around the end of the boom to stay attached as long as possible, again to reduce buffeting and boom motion. Inside the boom aperture are a row of small cylinders, which may be there to promote mixing in the shear layer between the internal and external flow around the boom.

Finally, the fences at the end of the boom vanes serve to separate the flow over the vanes from the disturbed flow around the boom.

Looking at these aerodynamic fixes, it is easy to see why it can take some time to refine and achieve the right behaviour from the boom, especially if a hose and drogue attachment may be attached, as every vibration of the boom can be amplified at the receiver end of the system.

 

9. Cessna A-37 Dragonfly ‘Aussie dog whistle’

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The Cessna A-37 Dragonfly represents the enduring and active participation of the Temora Aviation Museum at Avalon. This year, in addition to the Dragonfly, the museum brought their Lockheed Hudson, Supermarine Spitfire and Commonwealth Boomerang to the show. As well as the Temora contingent, other participants from the same era included a Curtiss P-40, a Douglas DC3 and a Lockheed 12. On the day I attended, expected participation from the RAAF Museum Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Snipe and Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 did not occur due to relatively strong winds.

However, the Dragonfly put up a very sprightly show, as seen here. This particular aircraft is one of two operated by Temora, and has recently been completely rebuilt. The A-37 has more than twice the thrust of the original T-37, at 5,700lb, and operating at relatively light display weights a thrust to weight ratio of about 0.8 appears plausible.

Aided by blue sky, sunshine, and very effective smoke generators, the Dragonfly put up a fine display to represent the Temora contribution to Avalon.

8. Pilatus PC 21 ‘PC gone mad’ 

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Of course, the RAAF Roulettes are, to the Australian airshow scene, as iconic as the RAF Red Arrows are in the UK. The Roulettes first displayed in 1970 at Point Cook, using the Macchi MB 326, and this year’s Avalon show featured the last Roulettes display with the PC9, a type they have been operating since 1989.

To mark the transition to the new PC-21, the team flew their normal 6-ship PC9 routine accompanied by a 4-ship formation of PC-21s. The new aircraft has some attractive features, including a 1600 shp engine driving a 5 -blade propeller, giving the PC-21 much higher performance than the 1150 shp PC-9, and a quite different look and sound in the air.

These offset to some extent the ‘what were they thinking?’ colour scheme, which really does not do this attractive aircraft any justice at all. Notwithstanding this, I am hoping to see the full team equipped with the PC-21 at the Wings Over the Illawarra airshow in early May, where I anticipate the higher performance PC-21 will breathe new life into the RAAF Roulettes display.

7. Boeing CH-47F Chinook ‘Gizzardgulper handler’

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The ADF has been operating the CH-47F Chinook since 2015, so this is again a relatively recent enhancement in capability for helicopter lift. The photo shows one of the two CH-47Fs participating in the Joint Capability demonstration, lifting off after unloading ground troops to assist in wresting Avalon airport from unspecified foes.

The cloud of blackened dust rising in the background is the by-product of pyrotechnics and petrol used to simulate the effects of earlier ‘cannon and rocket fire’ from two Tiger attack helicopters. In passing, this was a pretty sporty thing to do on a 40 deg C day with a stiff Northerly breeze.

I chose this picture because the Chinook is a pretty impressive aircraft, and has given sterling service to its many customers since first flight of the type back in the mists of time in 1961. The latest model follows the well honoured tradition of having everything you could imagine hung on it, including huge particle filters and IR suppressors for the engines, and an impressive elephant’s trunk-like tube on each side to carry waste shells away from the rotary cannon. An impressive piece of kit.

6. Lockheed C-130H Hercules ‘Kiwi Fat Albert’

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Why the Hercules? Well, the RNZAF put up a really good display with their Hercules, and had the endearing habit of treating the long runway at Avalon as the perfect opportunity to turn every take-off into an enduring low pass, in this case at a height of 14 ft.

In addition to the low passes, parachute dropping, and general all-round spirited handling display, this particular airframe dates from 1966, and is therefore one year older than my kombi, and quite a bit more capable.

The RNZAF is really quite a small force, but regularly appears at Avalon, and I well remember low passes in earlier years by their 757 VIP transport, and even the 727 which it replaced.

So hats off to the Kiwis.

5: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III ‘Globemaster Flash’

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Avalon this year was graced by both USAF and RAAF C-17s in the flying display. This is the USAF one, illustrating what brings the crowds to Avalon year after year. The crowd line is close enough to the runway to allow a really imposing view of the aircraft, big or small, noisy or quiet.

In this case, of course, the Globemaster, always imposing, but when seen up close, raising clouds of dust on take-off, truly impressive. And, as always, an equally impressive flying display, enhanced by the absence of the usually patronising and overdone US commentary.

In this year’s display the aircraft were generally supported by well-informed and interesting commentary, and were, in many cases allowed largely to speak for themselves. If you want to experience a well-run airshow, in ways that now appear impossible in Europe, come down to Oz for Avalon. Next time it will be the 100th anniversary of the RAAF, so expect big things!

4: Kawasaki C-2 Japanese jet ‘Atlas’

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I was delighted to see that the JASDF had brought a Kawasaki C-2 down to Avalon. I was not aware that the aircraft was at the show, and its participation in the flying display was a bonus.

The aircraft has quite recently entered service with the JASDF, and its presence was another indicator that Japan is now prepared to export some military aircraft capability (they are actively promoting this aircraft for New Zealand). This follows on from the recent overseas tour made by the Kawasaki P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and discussions on possible sales of the Shin-Mewa US-2 amphibian.

The C-2 has something of the appearance of a turbofan powered A400M Atlas, or a scaled down C-17 Globemaster. Compared to The Atlas, it carries a smaller payload, but at significantly higher cruising speeds. There have been a few issues in development, and six years elapsed between the first flight of the aircraft and its acceptance into service in 2016.

The display aircraft gave a generally rather sedate performance, rather late in the day, before signing off with some fairly extravagant wing rocks, as seen in the picture.

3: McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet ‘The badass bug’

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As part of the general flying programme, the RAAF put up a four-ship Hornet display team, made up of aircraft and QFI pilots from Nos 3 and 77 Squadron, and No 2 Operations Conversion Unit, all based at RAAF Williamtown.

Although the practice sessions for the team were apparently held outside normal working hours, a very creditable result was achieved, including the echelon pass shown here. It is quite unusual these days to see a formation display team using operational fast jets (leaving aside one-off passes for special occasions, like the recent Tornado farewell fly-pasts in the UK), so I thought I would recognise this by including this picture.

Although the first F-35s are beginning to join the RAAF, and some of the F-18s are apparently going to go to Canada, the type will remain in RAAF service until 2022, with the Super Hornets and Growler serving on well beyond that.

2: Lockheed F-35A Lightning II ‘Panther burns’

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Although the first F-35 for the RAAF appeared briefly at the previous show, and performed a few sedate fly-bys, this year was the first occasion at which a full on, high-energy display of the aircraft was available to the public. In fact, the displays were quite extensive, as in addition to the solo display of the aircraft, it also featured in some mixed formation fly-pasts with 2 Hornets and the F-22 Raptor.

Impressive features of the display included the rapid acceleration on take-off, the noise, which was colossal, and a significant amount of high-g manoeuvring. It was interesting to observe one of the high-speed turns concluding with significant down elevator and large taileron deflection, as the aircraft was rapidly unloaded and rolled to level the wings.

In the low humidity of a 40C day, there was very little of the condensation so beloved of fast-jet photographers, visual effects being limited to occasional tip vortices, the afterburner flame — an extensive exhaust hot-gas ‘jelly’.

An impressive display, but the true test of this aircraft is in BVR combat in contested airspace – hopefully never to be realised except in training exercises.

1: Lockheed F-22 Raptor ‘Patchwork Pete’

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With a degree of inevitability, my final choice is the magnificent Raptor. On a previous occasion at Avalon, we were treated to blue skies, cooler weather, and lots of atmospheric effects accompanying the Raptor display.

This time, what we got was just a display of brute power. Very noisy, and full of very aggressive manoeuvres. The photo was taken just at the end of a fast pass, with the aircraft beginning to roll hard-left into a thrust-vector assisted 9g turn.

The sheer brutality of the manoeuvre was extremely impressive, although there was a significant bleed-off in energy.

Both the F-22 and F-35 did passes with the weapons bay doors open, revealing in both cases a surprising complexity of plumbing and hardware. The F-22, in particular, presented a very mottled appearance, suggesting servicing activity requiring much making good of signature reducing surface treatments.

How to sum up Avalon? On the one hand, it’s the display with everything: comprehensive trade show; general aviation; home-built aircraft; executive jets; warbirds; military helicopters, transports and heavy metal; all in an environment with generally fine weather, tolerant of noise, and with great viewing opportunities from the flight line and the grandstands.

I am conscious too, that my 12 photos do not do justice to the breadth and scope of the show, with no insane aerobatic aircraft, and almost no warbirds, and little coverage of the extensive and fascinating ground exhibits.

For me, this was another great show, but the good weather on Friday, extending as it did to high temperatures, a hot North wind and 7 hours of airshow in an open grandstand, turned into such an endurance test that I did not return on the Saturday.

Will I be back in two-year’s time? Definitely. But I’ll be hoping for cooler conditions to really enjoy what should be an absolute cracker – Avalon does 100 years of the RAAF!”

Will S-400 sale to Turkey scupper F-35 deal?

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Yesterday we took at the reasons Turkey made the controversial decision to purchase a Russian air defence system. Today – will Turkey get the F-35 stealth fighter— and how effective would the S-400 be in service? We asked Arda Mevlutoglu

“It seems that the whole deal has turned into a game of who will blink first: Turkey repeatedly stated at all levels including the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that there will be no backing from the contract with Russia. The US on the other hand threatened to block the deliveries of the F-35, removing Turkey from the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) programme and impose of sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA is a United States federal law that imposes sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia). Unless an interim or an ‘innovative’ solution can be found, it seems that Turkey will not get F-35 if the deliveries of the S-400 commences.

Turkey so far has taken delivery of two F-35A’s (18-0001 and 18-0002) in June last year. These aircraft are used in pilot and ground crew training at Luke AFB. Third and fourth aircraft are expected to be delivered in March this year. First two F-35A’s were planned to be flown to Turkey towards the end of this year. Malatya 7th Main Jet Base 172nd Squadron is the first unit to be equipped with F-35A’s, to be followed by 171. The other base to house F-35A’s is Eskisehir 1st Main Jet base with 111 and 112 Squadrons.

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It should be noted that there has been a new move from the US side earlier this year —the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 was brought before President Trump on February 15th. This Act has a section about Turkey, one article deals with the sanctions for Turkish Presidential Protection Directorate, and another on deals with the S-400 procurement. The Act directs the Department of State to prepare an update to the report that was submitted by the Department of Defense late last year regarding the implications of S-400 deployment to Turkey. The update that this Act asks for will include a plan (or a roadmap) to impose sanctions to Turkey because of the S-400 procurement under CAATSA. The report will be take at least six months. but no later than 1 November 2019. In other words, the US government will prepare sanctions for Turkey if S-400 deliveries commence. The act also calls for no F-35 delivery to Turkey until the update is submitted.

This act was signed by Trump on the very same day it was submitted for approval.

Our interview with an F-35 pilot here

“The airspace is filled with manned and unmanned air platforms of many military, civilian and ‘unknown’ users. To make things more complicated, the airspace is hammered by electronic warfare signals of all bands and spectrums.”

And if Turkey does get the S-400 will there be problems operating both US and Russian equipment?

The Turkish Armed Forces already use a number of Russian made equipment such as BTR-60 and  armoured personnel carriers, Mi-17 general purpose helicopters (in Gendarmerie service), Kornet E anti tank guided missiles as well as infantry weapons like PKM’s, SVD’s, AK’s. However, a complex weapon system such as S-400 will be a first. There certainly are many risks and issues in terms of interoperability, logistics, training, infrastructure, doctrine, security and intelligence.

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The effective use of such a long-range air defence system like S-400 in a complex air threat environment requires a multi-layered air defence network with overlapping weapon, sensor and intelligence gathering systems, connected to a network-monitored and controlled by command & control nodes. We are seeing the unforgiving and complex nature of modern air warfare in Eastern Syria on a daily basis, especially by the strikes of Israeli Air Force in Syria — the airspace is filled with manned and unmanned air platforms of many military, civilian and ‘unknown’ users. To make things more complicated, the airspace is hammered by electronic warfare signals of all bands and spectrums. Providing 3- dimensional situational awareness in real time, and establishing and sustaining air defence protection requires a robust, interoperable network of weapon and sensor systems.

Stand-alone deployment of one or two S-400 batteries does not fit into this equation.

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Arda Mevlutoglu is an astronautical engineer. He is currently working as the VP of an international trading and consultancy company, focusing on defense and aerospace sector. He is currently working as the Vice President of Defense Programs at an international trading and consultancy company. His research focuses on defense industry technology, policies and geopolitical assessments, with a focus to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region. His works have been published in various local and international journals such as Air Forces Monthly, Air International, Combat Aircraft, EurasiaCritic, ORSAM Middle East Analysis. He has been quoted by Financial Times, Reuters, BBC, Al Monitor, CNN Turk and TRT on issues covering Turkish defense industry and military developments.

Why Turkey is buying the Russian S-400 air defence system and why it’s making the US mad: A Turkish perspective

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Turkey is buying an air defence system, the formidable S-400, from Russia. The deal has sparked fury from the US government, which is threatening economic sanctions and the withholding of F-35 stealth fighters.

The situation is complicated and heated, there being several reasons for the US’ ire that include: the belief of some in the US that the international community should be united to punish Russia for annexing Crimea; the US wish to sell their own weapon systems; the complication of a NATO nation using high-tech Russian equipment; the risk of Russia accessing information on how well the S-400 system can detect and potentially counter the F-35, the mainstay of NATO’s future warplane force. To further complicate this, three NATO nations already operate Russian air defence systems (Greece, Slovakia & Bulgaria), something Turkish officials are keen to point out. Today the situation grew even more tense, as the two famously hot-headed national leaders, Presidents Trump and Erdoğan fail to resolve the crisis. We spoke to Arda Mevlutoglu to find out more about why Turkey has chosen to buy the S-400 and whether it’s a good idea. 

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Why has Turkey chosen the Russian S-400 air defence system?
The official reply to this question is based upon two main factors:

1. The reluctance and even denial of NATO partners to provide similar systems and technologies, and consequently-

2. (an) Attractive Russian offer. The Russian offer is stated as involving much better terms in pricing, delivery time and joint production.

Last, but not least, S-400 is favoured because of its unrivalled performance, being able to eliminate targets as far as 400km.

However, a close examination of these reasons leads to a different conclusion: the Russian side repeatedly state that the deal involves no transfer of technology or joint production, i.e the systems will be delivered ‘off-the-shelf’. Furthermore, Turkey officially stated that the S-400 system will not be integrated into Turkey’s air defence network, which in turn is a part of NATO air defence early warning system. In other words, S-400 battery will be used ‘standalone’, which will significantly decrease its effectiveness against especially low flying targets. How the interoperability or Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) issues will be resolved is a complete mystery. These inconsistencies suggest that the decision to purchase S-400 was mostly, if not completely a political decision, rather than a technical one.

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Therefore, the S-400 deal should not be examined without taking into consideration the other factors such as Syria, Turkish – Russian rapprochement after the Su-24 incident, and Turkey’s strained relations with the West after the July 15th 2016 coup attempt.”

What are the reasons the US is unhappy about this?

“The main publicised concern is the interference of the S-400 with F-35. Also there has been other issues stated by officials including the risk  of espionage and the weakening of NATO’s stance against Russia.

The S-400 is a very advanced air defence system: It incorporates long range search and tracking radars, can be integrated into different intelligence and target acquisition systems and also has a high-performance command & control system. It is the backbone of Russian air defence today and the centrepiece of its Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy. Today we see scores of S-400 battalions being deployed to annexed Crimea, Kaliningrad and Syria to establish ‘air defence bubbles’. Deployment of a similar system, albeit in a stand-alone mode, is stated as a risk to NATO assets deployed in or by Turkey.

Turkey is a Level III partner of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and one of the biggest customers of the aircraft with a requirement for 100 F-35As for the air force and around 16 – 20 F-35B STOVL version for the navy. (the F-35B deal is not yet confirmed) As a state-of-the-art 5th generation fighter, F-35 being in close proximity to S-400s is the most prominent concern voiced by NATO and US officials.

“Does Turkey need an S-400 in a standalone mode with so many military, industrial and political consequences? Probably not.” — Arda Mevlutoglu

There is also another issue in terms of industrial and human espionage. Strategic weapon systems such as S-400 are operated in an ‘out of the box and then plug & play’ fashion. The training of their crew, deployment and operation planning, Concept of Operation (CONOPS), maintenance and sustainment of these systems require constant communication and coordination between Turkey and Russia through military, industrial and bureaucratic channels. This fact alone is expressed as a risk, as Russia is officially the number 1 threat to NATO.”

Are the US concerns valid?

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The US concerns are not totally unfounded. It is indeed a risk for NATO assets, one reason being the potential proximity of F-35s to the radars of S-400, especially its engagement radar. There also is a significant risk of HUMINT (human intelligence, traditional spying) operations by Russia, an intelligence gathering approach Russia favours.

What is the the nature of the HUMINT threat?

The main threat here is that Russian spies posing as engineers or advisors coming to Turkey might attempt to infiltrate Turkish / NATO network. Another risk is Russian attempts to engage Turkish personnel. In other words, Russian intelligence might use S-400 delivery / training / support as a disguise for increased espionage activities.
And what exactly is the nature of the fears of the F-35s being near the S-400?
US / NATO circles voiced concerns about S-400’s sensors collecting sensitive information about F-35 such as detailed radar cross section profile, communications and electronic warfare performance. On the other hand, it should not be overlooked that Turkey is one of the oldest members of NATO, participating in many operations and making huge contribution to the collective security of the alliance. Turkey has all the means and capability to assess the possible security and intelligence risks of this programme and is taking measures accordingly. Furthermore, the S-400 is being procured as a national asset, it will not be integrated into the NATO network, meaning that it will be a separate, independent entity.”
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What is the general Turkish view of US Government opinions on the deal?
The Turkish reaction to the US government can be summarised under three main topics: 1. There is widespread frustration and reaction to the US regarding its support to PYD, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is officially recognised as a terrorist organisation by many international organisations and even the US itself. The open support of the US of the PYD is not a factor of the decision for S-400 per se, but it is indeed one of the main reasons for Turkey distancing itself.

2. US (as well as Germany and Netherlands) premature withdrawal of Patriot air defence batteries from Turkey, which were deployed under Operation Active Fence in 2015 created deep impact in the collective memories of Turkish public as well as decision makers. This decision by the three allied countries is seen as “our NATO allies failing to come to our aid in times of need”. The said batteries were subsequently replaced by a SAMP/T battery from Italy and a then a Patriot battery from Spain.

3. The reluctance of NATO allied countries, especially the US, to share know-how and joint production resulted in discomfort in Ankara, which has ambitious plans to establish a self-sufficient defence industry.

More on this story here.

Does Turkey need the S-400?

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“Currently the air defence of Turkey mostly relies on a fleet of around 240 F-16C/D fighter aircraft. Ground based air defence systems consist of Atilgan and Zipkin self-propelled low-altitude air defence systems using FIM-92 Stinger missiles, short-range Rapiers and medium-ranged Hawk XXI missiles Early warning is done through a fleet of four Boeing 737 Peace Eagle AEW&C aircraft, 14 TRS-22XX mobile long-range early warning radars and some NATO radar assets as well as NATO air defence early warning assets. Additionally, the 3rd Main Jet Base in Konya in central Anatolia is a Forward Operating Base for the NATO E-3 AWACS aircraft.

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The requirement for a long-range high-altitude air defence system has been on the agenda since late 1980’s, when Iraq, Iran and Syria were conducting ambitious missile and WMD development programmes. The Gulf War in 1991 underlined this requirement and immediately afterwards, Turkey started studies of ground-based air defence systems. However, budget constraints prevented Turkey from moving forward. It was not until the early 2000’s that it resumed these studies. In 2006, separate projects were started to reinforce the air defence capability: off-the-shelf procurement of long-range air defence systems (LORAMIDS; Long Range Air and Missile Defence System) and low- and medium altitude air defence system development programmess (Hisar A and Hisar O respectively).”

 

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“The LORAMIDS tender saw three companies being shortlisted in late 2013: Chinese CPMIEC, French-Italian EUROSAM and the American Patriot. Turkey started contract negotiation with CPMIEC for the FD-2000 system. But increasing pressure from NATO and disagreements over transfer of technology resulted in the cancellation of the project in late 2015.

Therefore, the answer to the question is —Turkey needs a long-range high-altitude air defence system, but does Turkey need an S-400 in a standalone mode with so many military, industrial and political consequences? Probably not.”

Update on this story here. 

About the author 

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Arda Mevlutoglu is an astronautical engineer. He is currently working as the VP of an international trading and consultancy company, focusing on defense and aerospace sector. He is currently working as the Vice President of Defense Programs at an international trading and consultancy company. His research focuses on defense industry technology, policies and geopolitical assessments, with a focus to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region. His works have been published in various local and international journals such as Air Forces Monthly, Air International, Combat Aircraft, EurasiaCritic, ORSAM Middle East Analysis. He has been quoted by Financial Times, Reuters, BBC, Al Monitor, CNN Turk and TRT on issues covering Turkish defense industry and military developments.

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