All posts by Jamie Hunter

RAF boss visits Pakistan Air Force


The Royal Air Force’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, visited the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) last week. During his three-day trip from March 30 to April 1 he spent time with the PAF CAS, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman and was briefed on the PAF’s ongoing fight against terrorism, which is conducted under Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

On March 31 Hillier visited the newly named PAF Academy Asghar Khan (formerly Risalpur) where he was chief guest at a graduation ceremony for the 118th Combat Support Course and 39th Basic Learning Pilots Course. During his speech, the RAF CAS said: “the RAF made a valuable contribution towards the development of PAF especially in its early years – a contribution that was deeply appreciated.” He went on to add: “the relations between two countries and, of course the two air forces, will continue to strengthen even further.”

During a visit to Mushaf Air Base the following day, the RAF CAS reinforced his sentiment when he announced that the PAF’s 9 Multirole Squadron ‘Griffins’, which flies F-16A/Bs, would twin with the RAF’s No 9 ‘Bats’ Squadron currently flying Tornado GR4s. It is unclear what the twinning will mean, given the high level of operational activity that the two units are involved in. Both squadrons are participating in ongoing operations against terrorism – the PAF in the FATA region of Pakistan and the RAF over Syria and Iraq.

Air Chief Marshal Aman said: “No 9 Squadrons of both the air forces have a rich legacy and have been frontline squadrons since their inception. The twinning of these squadrons would help us in learn from each other and strengthen our cordial relations.”

While addressing the occasion ACM Hillier said: “The Pakistan Air Force is respected world over due to its sound professionalism and deeply respected in the [United Kingdom].” He added: “The twinning of these renowned squadrons will further develop their capabilities and lay a foundation to build on the legacy of our predecessors.”

Earlier in the day, both the air chiefs flew a mission in separate 9 Squadron F-16Bs. It was the first time that a foreign CAS had participated in a joint mission with a PAF CAS. Alan Warnes


AFM at LIMA: New configuration for Guardian 400 MRSA

Viking Air, the Canadian company now producing Twin Otters, is keen to gain some of the maritime surveillance market in Asia. It is offering the Guardian 400 Multi-Role Sensor Aircraft (MRSA) and a mock-up of the aircraft’s nose could be found at the company’s LIMA stand.

Inside the nose on display was a Selex Osprey 30, a 28VDC version of Leonardo’s Seaspray 5000 maritime surveillance radar which requires AC electrical power, as well as an L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret. The EO/IR system is retractable so that spray doesn’t get on the system as it departs/lands on water or in poor weather conditions.

Since restarting the Twin Otter production line in April 2007, Viking Air has sold 144 Twin Otter 400s, with production backed up to the end of next year. There are two military customers operating the Guardian 400. The United Arab Emirates Joint Aviation Command (JAC) operates six and the Vietnam People’s Navy operates three, although Viking would not confirm this or their configurations. The Vietnamese examples are known to have been modified by Ikhana Aircraft Services of Murrieta, California with an Elta EL/M-2022 maritime radar system and a 10-inch MiniPOP day/night EO turret.

However, Field Aviation, Viking’s preferred system integrator, has come up with a new approach, preferring to put the systems into the nose section. Joar Gronlund, Senior Advisor, Field Aviation told AFM: “It will turn the Twin Otter 400 into a versatile multi-role aircraft suited for surveillance, search and rescue, medevac and other forms of transport, without the operator having to make time-consuming changes to the aircraft. It can also be delivered with ITAR-free systems.” Alan Warnes


The Twin Otter MRSA nose on display at the Viking Air stand, with Oscar 30 maritime surveillance radar and a retractable Wescam MX-15 EO/IR system. Alan Warnes




First flight for An-132D

Antonov has completed the maiden flight of its new An-132D multi-role turboprop transport. The aircraft took to the air last Friday, March 31, from the company’s airfield in Kiev, Ukraine.

The first prototype of the short- to medium-haul aircraft flew for 1 hour and 50 minutes in the hands of Antonov test pilot Victor Goncharov, accompanied by Saudi test pilot General Mohammed Ayash of  Taqnia Aeronautics. The co-pilot was Antonov’s Bohdan Zagoruyko, while Volodymyr Nesterenko was on board as flight engineer. The aircraft was ‘chased’ by one of the company’s An-178 jet transports.

Development of the An-132 is being conducted as a joint project with two Saudi Arabian companies, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and Taqnia Aeronautics.

According to Oleksandr Kotsiuba, president of Antonov, the programme will now work towards presenting the An-132D demonstrator in Saudi Arabia.

Antonov formally rolled out the first prototype An-132D in a ceremony at its Kiev production facility last December 20.

One of the first customers will be the Saudi Ministry of Defence, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Taqnia and Antonov at the Dubai Airshow on November 12, 2015, for an initial acquisition of six An-132s. Four of these will be transport versions, reportedly configured for search and rescue operations, while the remaining two will be specialised electronic warfare variants.

Series production will be carried out by Taqnia and KACST in Saudi Arabia. First deliveries are planned before the end of the year.


Royal Saudi Air Force deploys to Sudan

The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has deployed four Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s and four F-15C Eagles to Merowe Air Base, Sudan, for a joint exercise, which is scheduled to run from March 29 to April 12. Sudanese Air Force participants were to include more than two dozen fighters, including MiG-29s and unspecified Sukhoi jets. Sudan has both the Su-24 Fencer and Su-25 Frogfoot in service.

Merowe, situated around 210 miles (340km) north of Khartoum, does not have any resident units, but regularly sees detachment of Sudanese fighters. Officials said they had been planning the exercise for almost a year, following a proposal put forward by Saudi Arabia. It marks the first such joint training to take place between the two countries since Sudan broke its ties with Iran and allied with Saudi Arabia in 2015. At that time, Sudan also joined the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The exercise was intended to improve the operational capabilities of both air forces, promote co-operation and enhance operational capabilities.

T-X RFP response deadline

Boeing said today that it has formally submitted its RFP response ‘two days early’ for the US Air Force’s T-X advanced pilot training competition.

The deadline for RFP responses in set for March 31, with a contract award for a winner takes all deal expected by year end.

Lockheed Martin says it’s T-50A proposal is in the process of being submitted to Air Force Materiel Command.  Leonardo DRS is also expected to submit a proposal for the T-100, based on the popular M-346 Master.

Lebanese A-29 pilots begin training

The first new Lebanese Air Force A-29 Super Tucano trainee pilot started live flying with the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB, Georgia, on 22 March.

“It was his first flight in the aircraft so it was a great [opportunity] for him to get oriented in the A-29 and how it flies,” said the 81st FS instructor pilot who conducted the first flight. “[Since training began] this was the first opportunity that we’ve had to get the first Lebanese [pilot] airborne. They’ve been doing ground training, learning the procedures, patterns, simulator and emergency procedures.”

With the first flight completed and logged, the 81st FS moves one-step closer to the programs, end goal which emulates the Afghan pilot training at the same base. These pilots and maintainers will be armed with the light air support capabilities they need to defend their country from terrorism and combat common enemies.

“We’ve got one student with one flight under his belt but it’s a small victory for us,” said Lt Col Ryan Hill, 81st FS commander. “The end state is that we’re going to have 12 trained Lebanese pilots. These guys will be fully-trained operational combat pilots in the A-29 aircraft. The ultimate goal is for them to fight ISIS on their eastern border.”

After completing the program, 12 pilots and approximately 20 maintainers will also be able to stand up their own fully functional A-29 squadron and be able to continue operations on their own in Lebanon.


Helicopter gunships in AFM

Helicopter gunships were all the rage in the latter part of the Cold War. On each side of the Iron Curtain, huge numbers of NATO and Warsaw Pact gunships prepared for a conflict that never came. Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland all operated the Mi-24 Hind. Today the Hind is only flown in Europe by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. While the Czech Republic operates 17 Mi-24V/35s, Poland maintains a fleet of 28 Mi-24D/W versions. After grounding its Mi-24V fleet, Bulgaria has since returned a single example to service. Romania never operated the Mi-24 but did fly locally assembled IAR-330H Pumas, which could be armed. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, 30 Romanian IAR-330Hs were upgraded to the armed IAR-330L SOCAT standard.

Photo: Rich Cooper

Back in the Cold War days, the only NATO nation to operate dedicated gunships in Europe was the US Army, which fielded hundreds of AH-1 Cobras and subsequently introduced around 200 AH-64 Apaches. Today there are only around 30 US Army AH-64 Apaches left in Europe, flying from Ansbach-Katterbach Army Airfield in Germany.

However, European countries that once operated Bells, Bölkow 105s or Gazelles that could be armed with rocket pods and guns have now re-equipped with dedicated gunships.   Italy has the Mangusta, while Turkey is developing its own T129 version, known as the ATAK. France, Germany and Spain all collaborated on the Tiger/Tigre, while Greece, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom went for the US option, the AH-64 Apache.

Photo: via Riccardo Niccoli

The current, April issue of AFM sees our correspondents continue their review of Europe’s helicopter gunships, covering Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. You can buy your copy of the magazine here.



AFM at LIMA: Singaporean ‘bombtruck’

AFM correspondent Alan Warnes caught this F-15SG in the static display at LIMA 17 at Langkawi International Airport in Malaysia. Assigned to the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s 149 Squadron ‘Shikras’ at Paya Lebar Air Base, 8319 was loaded with several types of laser-guided bomb (LGB).

Singapore ordered 12 F-15s plus eight options in December 2005 after a long selection process to replace the last of the RSAF’s fleet of locally upgraded A-4SU Super Skyhawks. Based on the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15SG is equipped with an Raytheon AN/APG-63(V)3 AESA radar, Sniper pods, Link 16 advanced datalinks and Tigereye infra-red search and track (IRST).

Air-to-ground weaponry includes Paveway II LGBs and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). GBU-54 dual-mode Laser JDAMs are also in use.

In 2007 Singapore announced that it was exercising the eight options and adding four more aircraft to the order.

Despite earlier reports that the RSAF has 24 F-15SGs, a count of the airframes in Singapore and the United States indicates that there are 32 aircraft currently in service. In addition, the unexplained appearance of eight more F-15SGs on the US Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft registry in June 2014 suggests the RSAF could have as many as 40 F-15s.

AFM at LIMA: Leonardo P-72A debut

Leonardo is exhibiting a P-72A (company designation ATR-72MPA) maritime patrol aircraft at LIMA 17, where the type is making its public debut, Alan Warnes reports. The aircraft is one of three that have now been delivered to the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare)’s 41° Stormo based at Sigonella, Sicily.

The Malaysian Government has a requirement for a maritime surveillance aircraft and the Prime Minister had a look around the aircraft immediately after the opening ceremony this morning.

The Aeronautica Militare received its first two examples of the P-72A on December 13. Based on the ATR-72-600 regional turboprop, the P-72A will replace the Breguet P-1150A Atlantic in Italian Air Force service. A total of four P-72As are on order under the terms of a 2014 contract that also includes logistic support services. Final deliveries are due to be completed in 2017.

Equipped with the Leonardo Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance (ATOS) mission system, the P-72A will be used for missions including maritime patrol, search and identification of surface vessels, search and rescue (SAR), counter-narcotics trafficking, anti-piracy, prevention of smuggling, territorial water security and monitoring and intervention in the event of environmental catastrophes.

End of the line for No XV Squadron

Today saw the end of an era as the Royal Air Force’s No XV (Reserve) Squadron conducted its final flights at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland. With this, the base bid farewell to Tornado operations.

Withdrawal of the RAF Tornado Force might still be two years away, but the first significant step towards the jet’s demise is now under way. On March 31, the Tornado Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), No XV(R) Squadron is to disband and the type’s formal training process will end.

The Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit was based at RAF Honington in Suffolk when it received the No XV (Reserve) Squadron title in 1992. It moved to RAF Lossiemouth in November 1993 and then with the closure of the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment in March 1999 No XV(R) Squadron assumed responsibility for the training of all of the RAF’s Tornado GR4 pilots and Weapon Systems Operators in both initial training on the aircraft and in post-graduate courses. Over the past 24 years the squadron has been the life-blood of the front line, ensuring the squadrons were provided with combat capable aircrew. The final ab-initio pilot finished his training at the end of January, and the last refresher pilot, returning from a tour instructing at RAF Valley, graduated at the end of February.

The unit, which flew more than 2,200 hours last year, becomes the first casualty of the drawdown but leaves the Tornado Force in a good position.

Crown Copyright

After the unit’s disbandment, the bulk of the squadron staff will be posted to RAF Marham to keep the front line going for the final two years of the Tornado.

Many of the groundcrew have been at RAF Lossiemouth for years, and a significant proportion will remain there. Those remaining will find plenty to occupy them with P-8 Poseidon and a fourth Typhoon squadron arriving at the Scottish base in the future. However, no one is currently sure what will happen to the XV number plate.

The squadron standards will be placed at the RAF Church, St Clement Danes, London, until a decision is made.

A full report on the final days of No XV(R) Squadron appears in the March 2017 issue of AFM.

No XV(R) Sqn Tornado aircraft flying in formation for the last time, flying over RAF Lossiemouth and surrounding areas. Wg Cdr Froome OC of the squadron was flying the lead aircraft. Crown Copyright