Real Thaw 17 in Portugal: mission accomplished

Beja airbase in Portugal was a hive of military aviation activity in for two weeks in March. Responsible for all of this, was exercise Real Thaw 2017,  an air force exercise, planned and conducted by the Portuguese Air Command. The main objective of Real Thaw 17 was to evaluate and certify the operational capability of air power in a multinational joint training environment.

This ninth edition of Real Thaw saw participation of aircraft from almost every Portuguese Air Force squadron, ranging from F-16AMs from Monte Real airbase, P-3C Orion, Alpha Jets en Alouette helicopters from  from Beja itself, plus C-130 Hercules and C-295M Persuader from Montijo airbase.

Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo

US forces

The US Air Force Europe took part with two C-130J Super Hercules tactical transport aircraft and approximately 70 personnel from the 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, in Germany. During the exercise, the 37th Airlift Squadron will focus on tactical airlift training including formation and low-level flying, assault landings, and personnel and equipment airdrops with paratroopers from US Army Europe and partner nations.

Also participating were two MV-22s Ospreys from VMM-764, one KC-130 and 60 U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Africa (SPMAGTF-CR-AF) staged in Moron Air Base, Spain.

Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo

Other players

Other ‘players’ were the Netherlands and Belgium with a C-130H-30 Hercules each, plus Spain with EF-18 Hornets and a single C212 Aviocar from Ala 37, a small aircraft that thanks to its hardness and ability to operate from unprepared runways, carried out infiltration and extraction missions of special forces during Real Thaw 17. Finally, NATO dispatched a Geilenkirchen-based E-3A Sentry for air surveillance.

According to all participants, Real Thaw 17 ended with the sense of mission accomplished on March 17. The development of techniques, tactics and procedures, as well as the sharing of knowledge and experience, have added value in achieving a more proficient and cohesive operational structure in the carry out of the missions.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com contributor Jorge Ruivo

Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo
Image © Jorge Ruivo

Brand new Russian attack helo unit combat ready

Russia’s newest military helicopter unit has gone through its final testing phase to be officially “combat ready”. Equipped with the Ka-52 Alligator, the Mi-28N Night Hunter and the Mi-35M Hind the military attack helicopter squadron of the Southern Military District underwent its flight-tactical exercise near Kuban in the Krasnodar District.

The unit’s Ka-52s arrived late 2016 to reinforce Mil choppers and get a total combat strength of 20 rotary wing, plus reserves. Flown by 60 pilots and navigators combined, and supported by 150 ground crew and other personnel, the full squadron embarked on relocation exercises, tactical airborne assaults in mountainous areas as well as attack of armoured and soft targets using the onboard guns and missile systems.

The Russian Ministry of Defence is not elaborating too much on details other then saying 60 unguided missiles were fired on 20 different kind of targets.

Russian War games

Also at other locations in Russia, attack helicopter units are engaged in war games. An army aviation brigade in the Pskov region (Western Military District) was brought to the highest state of alert, flying 30 sorties a day for four days in row with its Ka-52 and Mil Mi-8AMTSH helicopters.

It is believed that in the case of an armed conflict Russia will be able to quickly attack and control large areas – for example cities like Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius or parts of Kiev – by flying its very mobile assault helicopter units in from forward operating locations in Russia or Belarus, supported by Russian Air Force combat fighter jets and jamming capability.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: A Russian Army Aviation Ka-52 Alligator during an earlier military exercise (Image © Russian Ministry of Defence)

RAF moves closer to Tornado farewell

The Royal Air Force moved closer to a final Tornado farewell as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the type flew its last mission from Lossiemouth airbase in Scotland on Friday. Five Tornados flew a formation flypast over the airbase and other places. The end for the Tornado in the UK is set for 2019.

The OCU was better known as XV (Reserve) squadron and for several decades was responsible for Tornado GR4 crew training in the ground-attack role. Earlier, the squadron was an operational unit, flying Cold War-type combat missions from Germany

Now, only three operational Tornado squadrons remain, all based at RAF Marham. For close, to four decades, the Tornado formed the backbone of the RAF with Tornado F3 variants taking care of air defense while Tornado GR4 jets fulfilled a ground attack role. See our Tornado Time feature here.

The RAF for the next few decades relies on the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

 

Order for 268 AH-64E Apache Guardians

Boeing and the US government have signed a five-year, 3.4 billion USD contract through which the Army, plus a customer outside the US, will acquire the latest Apache attack helicopter at a significant savings to taxpayers.

This is the first multi-year agreement for the Apache E variant, also dubbed Apache Guardian. The army will receive 244 remanufactured Apaches while 24 new ones will go to the international customer.

“This agreement is great news for our army, our soldiers, the American taxpayers, our industry partners and numerous international partners,” said U.S. Army Col. Joseph Hoecherl, the Apache project manager. “It is a direct result of the professional dedication and diligent efforts by government and industry teammates to provide the much needed capabilities of the world’s best attack helicopter – the AH-64E Apache – at a fair and affordable price that results in year over year savings to the taxpayer. In the hands of our trained U.S. soldiers, the Apache’s technologies and resulting capabilities are essential to Army operations around the globe.”

Boeing builds the Apache in Mesa, Arizona. Deliveries of the E model began in October 2011. Seven customers outside the US have ordered this variant. Including this latest version, the US and 15 other countries have relied on the Apache during the past three decades.

“The Apache has made a tremendous impact in the defense of the nations that have flown it for the last 37 years,” said Kim Smith, Boeing Attack Helicopters vice president and program manager. “Our team understands the responsibility we have to deliver the best aircraft on time at an affordable price every day, and we are committed to maintaining that well established tradition of excellence.”

Is this the ideal OA-X candidate?

The pending US Air Force competition for a light-weight ground-attack aircraft has been widely publicized. The US is expected to formally announce the OA-X competition this summer. The winner of this competition could very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Or could it?

Yes, the famed and feared Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt will continue to cause hazards to forces opposing the US for a few more years. However, unsure about exactly how many more years and if the Lockheed Martin F-35 will be able to fill the Thunderbolt’s shoes when it finally leaves, the US Air Force is looking at its ground attack capabilities. And the conclusion is that a small and flexible aircraft is needed.

That aircraft may very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. This Brazilian turboprop was designed in Brazil but is currenty also license-built in the US by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). As part of a contract awarded in February 2013, these aircraft are adding a ground attack capability to the Afghan Air Force. Pilots from Afghanistan learn to fly the A-29 with the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

Given this experience, the A-29 is likely candidate to enter in the OA-X competition. But ideal enough to actually  win? The US-designed and produced Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine may fit the bill just as well. And how about an armed Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet?

The first flight of the production version of the Beechcraft AT-6 in August 2013 (Image © Beechcraft)
The first flight of the production version of the Beechcraft AT-6 in August 2013 (Image © Beechcraft)
Lookin’ tough: the Textron Airland Scorpion. (Image © Textron Airland)

Plus, let’s not forget there’s another competition running right now, and it’s called T-X. The candidates in that competition may also offer the flexibility the US is looking for. An armed version over Lockheed Martin’s and Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 trainer already exists, and its  called FA-50. Meanwhile, Leonardo in Italy is already busy developing the M-346FT Fighter Trainer, an armed version of the M-346 Master.

Obviously, the winner of OA-X competition won’t be announced for some years. But it’s just as obvious that upon closer inspection, there are a lot more likely candidates than just the A-29.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

The KAI FA-50 in flight (Image © KAI)
The KAI FA-50 in flight (Image © KAI)
The armed M-346FT development (Image © Leonardo Finmeccanica)
The armed M-346FT development (Image © Leonardo Finmeccanica)