Hungarian Gripens

Baltic Air Policing – EXTRA

Our forthcoming December issue of Combat Aircraft includes a feature from Rich Cooper on the deployment of four 59th Tactical Fighter Wing JAS 39C Gripens from Kecskemét air base are for the first time flying the Baltic Air Policing mission out of the Lithuanian base of Šiauliai.

Here is an image taster for the feature, in the January issue, on sale from December 3.

Final C-17 Globemaster III

End of the line at Long Beach

The final Boeing C-17A Globemaster III departed the company’s plant at Long Beach, California on Sunday November 29, marking the official end of aircraft production in Long Beach. The airlifter flew over a crowd and the facility before heading to the company’s San Antonio location, where it will remain until delivery to the Qatar Emiri Air Force early in 2016.

It marked the end of C-17 production. “This is truly the end of an era. It’s a sad day, but one that all of the Boeing employees and suppliers who have worked over the years building this great aircraft can be proud of,” said Nan Bouchard, vice president and C-17 program manager.

Delivery of the first operational Globemaster III occurred on June 14, 1993, when serial 89-1192 was delivered to the 17th AS, part of the 437th Airlift Wing (AW). The C-17A achieved IOC with the 17th AS on January 17, 1995.

While it continued to seek foreign customers Boeing announced in July 2013 that it would build up to 13 so-called ‘white tail’ C-17As using company funds. On September 18, 2013 the company revealed that it would end production of the C-17A and close the final assembly facility in Long Beach in late 2015. In April 2014 the company reduced the planned production to just 10 aircraft and the timetable for completion was moved up approximately three months to mid-2015. Final assembly of the last of 279 C-17As began in Long Beach on February 26, 2015. By June 2015 just one of the white tails remained unsold and unless a buyer is secured the aircraft will be placed in storage once it is completed.

A full review of the C-17 program appears in our January 2016 issue, on sale from December 3.

Argentine Mirages bowing out

Special colours mark farewell event

The Argentine Air Force is marking the retirement of its charismatic Mirages, with final flights currently slated for December 3. The remaining Mirage IIIDA, a Finger IIIB and a Dagger Bs have received special markings and paint scheme for the occasion.

Photo Alexander Golz.

More to come in the February issue of Combat Aircraft.

German Tornados to deploy

Luftwaffe to join Syria mission for reconnaissance

Germany has responded to pressure from France to become more involved in the mission against Islamic State (IS). It looks set to deploy 4-6 Tornados, which will operate in the reconnaissance role. The Luftwaffe will also deploy one of its Airbus A310 tanker aircraft to support probe and drogue compatible receivers.

The German Tornado fleet is comprised of fighter-bomber IDS and SEAD/reconnaissance ECR variants. These aircraft are currently being upgraded to ASSTA 3 (Avionics System Software Tornado Ada) standard.

The modernization includes Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems (MIDS), new radar warning receivers, an advanced radio with jamming-resistant UHF channels, a digital video and data recorder, and the integration of new weapon types.

Thanks to the multi-function displays, an improved, digital map display, and the enhanced presentation of important tactical information.

The new cockpit layout eases the workload of the pilot, but also involves changes to cockpit procedures and in the communications between the weapons system officer and pilot. As a result, training of crews for the new standard is essential. After several days of theory, there is a familiarization flight for the pilot. The weapons system officer is required to perform two such flights in order to be awarded a certificate of competence on the ASSTA 3 standard.

Should the German Tornado role be expanded to include weapons employment, the ASSTA 3 standard includes the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kit, including GBU-54 Laser JDAM. Fast, mobile targets such as armored vehicles can be precisely targeted with GBU-54 guided bombs, for example.

Parallel to the ASSTA 3 activities, further developments are already under way on the next ASSTA 3.1 standard. In this, among other changes, the remaining monochrome cockpit monitors are to be replaced with color displays. With the provision of a single standard, the two versions of the Tornado (IDS and ECR) that are currently in use will be able to fly similar missions, despite different basic configurations. Thus, for example, the ECR will in future be used for both reconnaissance missions and conventional air-to-ground attack sorties.

Under current plans, the Tornado fleet will therefore remain multi-role capable beyond 2025, with TaktLwG 51 ‘Immelmann’ at Jagel with the Tornado ECR and with TaktLwG 33 at Büchel – the only Luftwaffe unit equipped with the Litening III targeting pod, reccelite and the ‘smart’ munitions.

Russian ‘Fencer’ down – updated 15.30 GMT 25 Nov 2015

Su-24M shot down over Turkish/Syrian border

On the morning on November 24, a Russian Air Force Su-24 ‘Fencer’ was shot down near the Turkish/Syrian border.

It was not immediately clear if the aircraft had been downed by air-to-air or ground-to-air fire, however as events unfolded it became apparent that two THK F-16s engaged the Su-24 after Turkish officials say it entered Turkish airspace.

However, the airspace violation has been denied by Russian sources, who say the aircraft remained in Syrian airspace and that it came down inside Syria.

Both pilots appear to have ejected but been killed.

UPDATE – US intelligence officials say the Su-24 received multiple warnings from the THK F-16s before one of them fired a single AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.

The ‘Fencer’ was one of the detached aircraft operating inside Syria. On September 20, 12 Su-24Ms arrived at Latakia, Syria, coming from the 6980th Guards Air Base at Chelyabinsk-Shagol.

A full report on Russian Air Force involvement in Syria appears in the December 2015 issue of Combat Aircraft.

Su-24 upgrades

Russian ‘Fencer’ upgrades have been modest to say the least, with the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association (NAPO) upgrading capabilities for flying in poor weather/night conditions new head up display and GLONASS global positioning.

Around 32 ‘Fencers’ upgraded to Su-24M2 standard and can be identified by the large chaff/flare dispensers located on the rear fuselage either side of the tailfin. Regiment at Verino-Pereyaslavka airfield in the Khabarovsk Far East Military District was the first to receive upgraded Su-24M2s, from late 2007.

The 43rd Independent Naval Assault Aviation Squadron at Gvardeskoye in Crimea received overhauled Su-24Ms from the Pushkin aircraft facility, near St Petersburg, in 2013 and the Russian AF has continued to push ‘Fencers’ through depot maintenance despite the arrival of the Su-34 ‘Fullback’ replacement.

P-8: What is the UK buying?

The SDSR announcement paves the way for nine British MPAs

The announcement that the UK Royal Air Force is to receive nine Boeing P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft was expected by many. The aircraft are likely to be established in service at RAF Lossiemouth by 2025.

Selected by the US Navy as the Maritime Multi-mission Aircraft (MMA) in June 2004, the P-8 Poseidon essentially replaces the 1960s-vintage P-3 Orion in US Navy service. To date, all aircraft deliveries have been ahead of schedule, a fact that Boeing takes great pride in, and which the US Navy greatly appreciates.

In mid-2004 Boeing was awarded a $3.89-billion Systems Development Demonstration (SDD) contract, ultimately resulting in six flight test vehicles and two static test airframes. Production of the first test aircraft began on December 11, 2007, and the P-8 made its first flight on April 25, 2009. The P-8A is basically a military derivative of the 737 — merging the 737-800 fuselage with the 737-900ER’s reinforced wings.

Incremental steps

The P-8A is part of an evolutionary acquisition program that will deliver capabilities in three major increments. The P-8A currently in production is a Baseline Increment 1 aircraft meant to recapitalize the ‘legacy’ P-3C Orion. This means that the baseline Poseidon will effectively mirror current P-3C capabilities. The Poseidon is currently certified to carry AGM-84D Harpoon missiles and Mk54 torpedoes. Weapons are carried in a five-station weapons bay and on four wing stations (each rated at 1,500lb).

Increment 2 is slated for 2016 implementation (to start with Lot 5), and will introduce the Multi-static Active Coherent (MAC) acoustics for enhanced undersea surveillance, an Automated Identification System (AIS) for tracking surface vessels, and High-Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC). Known as the AN/SSQ-125, MAC will be incorporated in two phases: Phase 1 will provide a shallow-water capability, and Phase 2 will provide deepwater capability.

HAAWC will permit the Poseidon to launch torpedoes from altitudes as high as 30,000ft and attack submarines at long ranges. Added to the Mk54 torpedo as a kit, HAASWC converts the torpedo into a glide weapon. As the torpedo reaches the water, it jettisons the wings and control surfaces and becomes a smart weapon that detects, tracks, and kills enemy submarines autonomously. The benefit of HAASWC is clear — releasing from higher altitudes not only keeps the Poseidon out of potential enemy air defense zones, it permits the aircraft to continue at optimum search altitudes and saves time and fuel associated with dropping to low altitude to attack targets, and then climbing back to patrol altitudes.

Flight trials of the Increment 2 upgrade began this past summer at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Starting in Fiscal Year 2016 all new-build aircraft manufactured will be to this standard, with existing platforms being retrofitted with the enhancements. Increment 2 upgrades will be installed per Engineering Change Proposals (ECPs), beginning with ECP-1 (MAC), ECP-2 (AIS and the first segment of HAASWC), and ECP-3 (full HAASWC with Mk54 guidance kit).

Increment 3 is planned for 2021 implementation. Although it is presently not defined, it should offer software architecture improvements, ASW upgrades, a network-enabled weapon, and additional sensor upgrades.

Boeing says that new production aircraft will be built to new increment standards and prior models will be retrofitted with the additional capabilities. According to Detwiler, these are mostly software modifications and can be done at the various basing facilities where the aircraft are housed. Boeing said that the implementation dates are goals, but noted that ‘[the] Navy wants to put technology on the aircraft that has matured and is ready on the aircraft as soon as possible.’

Although the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft program is still in development, one obvious use is to enhance long-range search and surveillance in the vast areas of the Pacific and other ocean regions. Developed under the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program, operating the Triton in conjunction with the Poseidon has long been a logical end-goal. Boeing is currently self-funding studies to evaluate P-8A/Triton interoperability.

Orders and deliveries

The US Navy programme of record was for 117 P-8s. The unit cost of most recently awarded Lot 5 production batch is put at $150m per aircraft, which Boeing says is down from $216m originally projected.

Production to date has come in six lots, including four Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) contracts, and the first Full-Rate Production (FRP) contract. A second FRP contract was awarded in August 2015. This latest $1.49 billion contract is for 13 aircraft and includes the first four aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). It also included long-lead items for the third full-rate production lot of 20 aircraft —16 for the US Navy and four more for Australia.

The US Navy is to build a 12-squadron P-8 fleet. Patrol Squadron 16 (VP-16) ‘War Eagles’ was the first squadron to transition to the P-8A and did so beginning in July 2012 and deployed in late November 2013 to Kadena AB for Seventh Fleet operations. VP-5 ‘Mad Foxes’ was the second squadron to transition and was on deployment until the end of 2014. VP-45 ‘Pelicans’ deployed next, followed by VP-8 ‘Fighting Tigers’. VP-10 ‘Red Lancers’ began transition in February 2015, and VP-26 ‘Tridents’ began their transition in September 2015. All East Coast squadrons are planned to complete their P-8A transition by February 2016. West Coast squadrons are scheduled to begin P-8A transition in October 2016. VP-4 ‘Skinny Dragons’ is said to be the first West Coast squadron to transition by spring 2017.

This article is an extract from Combat Aircraft Feb 2015 issue.

RAF to add two Typhoon squadrons

Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015

The UK SDSR 2015, to be announced this afternoon, looks set to increase the Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon Force by two additional squadrons.

The RAF currently has five front line Typhoon units: Nos 1(F), II(AC), 3(F), 6 and XI(F). Two additional units would take the RAF to seven front line squadrons, confirming recent rumours of a potential increase. However, sources suggest the RAF had been pushing for 3-4 additional squadrons.

The increase in units will be facilitated by the retention of a portion of the 53 early Tranche 1 Typhoons. Although it is with noting that these have only been in service for 10 years. RAF plans called for these aircraft to be retired by 2020, but now they will be retained for UK air defence duties and for aggressor roles. The forthcoming arrival of the F-35B in 2018 in the UK will require a far more robust ‘red air’ capability in the UK to test the capabilities of these advanced fighters.

It is thought that unless the three RAF Tornado GR4 units are extended, the increase in Typhoon squadrons will simply mean a smoother transition from the Tornado GR4 to the F-35B in terms of retaining mass.

The Typhoon CAPTOR E Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar project also looks to have been funded. This will give the RAF’s Tranche 3 jets a potent multi-role capability.

UK to buy P-8

Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015

In a statement released by the UK Government this morning ahead of the official SDSR announcement later today, the following plans have been laid out:

• The UK will acquire 9 new Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft for maritime surveillance, anti-submarine and anti-surface ship warfare. These aircraft will also provide maritime search and rescue and surveillance capabilities over land.

• The RAF will extend the life of its Eurofighter Typhoons for 10 extra years through to 2040. A portion of the 53 UK Tranche 1 aircraft will be retained and will allow for the creation of two additional front line squadrons. This will give the RAF 7 front line squadrons, and will also fund the new Active Electronically Scanned Array radar.

It had long been speculated that the RAF Typhoon Force would be expanded, with the original Tranche 1 aircraft now planned to be retained instead of being phased out of service by 2020. These aircraft are likely to be retained for Quick Reaction Alert and aggressor roles.

Photo: Richard Collens

USAF looks at fourth-gen fighters

Study is looking at new-build F-15, F-16 or F/A-18E/Fs

A senior USAF officer has said that Air Combat Command is studying the viability of purchasing new fourth-generation fighter aircraft. Up to 72 aircraft could be purchased to equip a single fighter wing, with upgrades of legacy fighters also being evaluated.

The study has come about partly due to the delivery rates of F-35A Lightning IIs, plus the desire for a high-end, low-end fighter mix.

One of the options clearly being reviewed is the Boeing Advanced F-15.

In our December 2015 issue of Combat Aircraft, on sale now, we featured the Advanced F-15.

This taps into the host of refinements evolved over the 40-plus years of Eagle production, and which manifests in the latest — and potentially final — variant now on the famous St Louis production line. Boeing is currently building 84 F-15SA Eagles for the Royal Saudi Air Force. These feature a host of significant new capabilities including digital fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control technology, the Advanced Digital Core Processor (ADCP) 2 mission computer, the advanced crew station with Large-Area Display (LAD), Digital Electronic Warfare System (DEWS), and an AESA radar.

Many of these features were planned as part of the stealthy F-15SE Silent Eagle, which failed to attract direct interest from new customers. The F-15SE’s conformal weapons bays (CWBs) were, for example, part of the industrial offset with Korean industry if a third buy of Eagles had been forthcoming. The CWBs had two doors and two weapon mounts, the upper, side-opening door carrying a rail launcher for an AIM-120 AMRAAM or an AIM-9-type missile, or a launcher for a single 500lb or 1,000lb bomb or two Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs). The lower door accommodated a trapeze-plus-ejector mount for an AIM-120, or for a single 500lb or 1,000lb bomb or two SDBs. The CWBs would also accommodate a small amount of fuel. Having funded an initial test period, including firing an AIM-120 from the CWB in July 2010, Boeing was ready to develop a number of the Silent Eagle options with customer support as prospective buyers came forward.

Although Seoul opted for the F-35, the Saudi deal paved the way for some of the less noticeable elements of the Silent Eagle to come to fruition, notably the advanced cockpit, digital FBW, and DEWS. Various elements that have been taken up by Boeing’s export customers over the past decade are now on the table to be offered as upgrades for other existing F-15 customers — including the USAF. Or maybe even for new USAF F-15s…?

Backfires in action over Syria

Tu-22M3s strike as part of large strategic bomber force

Some fourteen Tu-22M3 ‘Backfires’ from Mozdok attacked IS targets in the east of Syria. While Kh-555 ALCMs appear to have been used from the Tu-95MS and Kh-101s from the Tu-160s, videos suggest dumb iron bombs were used by the Tu-22M3s.

Russia is preparing its Tu-22M3 long-range bombers for several more decades of service. One by one the aircraft are undergoing major overhaul and being prepared for upgrade. Between 1969 and 1993, a total of more than 500 Tu-22Ms of all versions were built. Russia’s long-range bomber force currently includes seven squadrons of Tu-22Ms at three bases. A squadron of Tu-22M bombers has a nominal strength of 10 aircraft, but the actual number may vary slightly. Around 60-70 Tu-22Ms are estimated to remain in Russian service, with 100 more are storage, with the main operational version being the Tu-22M3 (codenamed ‘Backfire-C’).

The dedicated Cold War era Kh-22 (AS-4 ‘Kitchen’) missile is the Tu-22’s primary weapon. The Tu-22’s can carry up to three Kh-22/Kh-32 (AS-4 ‘Kitchen’) missiles, one semi-recessed on the under-fuselage BD3-45F pylon and two under the fixed wing glove on BD3-45K pylons. Free-fall bombs as used in the recent Syria raids can be carried suspended on KD3-22R or KD4-105A pylons inside the bomb bay as well as on four external MBD3-U9-68 multiple racks (two under the engine air intake trunks and two under the wings, each rack carrying six 500kg bombs). Bomb load options are, for instance, 69 x 250kg (551lb), or 42 x 500kg (1,102lb), or eight x 1,500kg (3,307lb), or 2 x 3,000kg (6,614b).

This feature appears in full in the July 2014 issue of Combat Aircraft.