The air assets of the German Armed Forces are in a even more deplorable state that before, and is becoming worse and worse. Helicopters, transport aircraft and combat jets are spending so much time on the ground that it hurts the defence capabilities of one of Europe’s biggest countries way too much. Many aircraft are not available for any duties they are so needed for, at home or with the 13 deployments abroad, including the “flashy” new Airbus A400Ms.
“The German airlift capabilities have become so weak that days of delays and cancellations of (planned) flights into and from areas of deployment are almost a normality,” Bartels says. “The status of materiel is equally bad and in many occasions even worse than during my first inspection visit in 2015. At the end of last year not a single of the 14 newly commissioned A400M transport aircraft was available. Eurofighter, Tornado, Transall, CH-53, Tiger, NH90 … the flying units rightfully complain they fail in having the appropriate flight hours for their crews because too many machines too many days a year are not ready to fly.”
Even the operation platforms of the German Navy helicopter fleet of Westland Sea Lynxes and in the future NH90 Sea Lion are far less than the German Ministry of Defence has promised to be available. Of the planned 15 frigates only 9 are in use and even they are often not able to sail with longer maintenance times in the shipyard for the aging vessels. Of the 220,000 job positions in the German Armed Forces, a massive 21,000 are vacant. Many troops lack winter uniforms or flack jackets.
Forty years old the Westland Sea King Mk 48 flown by the Belgian Air Component of its armed forces is still very much ruling the waves when it comes down to search and rescue operations.
The already delivered four new NH90 helicopters are not managing well, meaning that the dinosaur Sea Kings are somewhat strange still the most reliable rotary wing for whoever gets lost at sea in front of the Belgian coast – where one of the busiest shipping lanes of the world passes through the English Channel and North Sea.
The Ministry of Defence in Brussels confirmed it has a tremendous amount of difficulties in providing the nation with an adequate air rescue at sea. The Grey Cayman, as the Belgians have nicknamed their new navy NH90s, has too many issues during its operations – including a radar that sometimes doesn’t work.
Neighbours help out
The Sea Kings – suffering from their age – already have to soldier on till 2019, four years later than planned. NHIndustries/Airbus needs at least one and a half years more to update and repair all four NH90s delivered for navy tasks – taking about 6 months per aircraft at a time. According to a ministry spokesperson Belgium will ask its European neighbours – the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom – to help out and back up the Sea King. It may still rule the waves, but increased maintenance and lack of spare parts will likely put the Sea King on the ground at times as well, meaning there will be no single dedicated SAR helicopter on Belgian soil available for helping out stranded sea man, unfortunate swimmers and downed pilots.
Envisaging the coming new kid on the block, Belgium already retired its first Sea King (RS-01) on almost a decade ago, in the 33rd year of its service life. It left the 40 Squadron at homebase Koksijde on 17 December 2008 and has been a crown jewel of the Royal Museum of Army and War History of the nation ever since. Some black pages in its operational history: the crew had to ditch it into the North Sea in April 1981 due to engine problems and in 2005 it was suffering from severe hydraulic problems.
RS-01 was one of five Sea Kings delivered to the Belgian Air Component, sporting a for European waters rather rare ochre yellow and green camo scheme as the machines were originally built by British Westland for the Egyptian armed forces, but that delivery was cancelled in 1975. The Belgian Armed Forces started operations with the Sea King on 1 April 1976. During the years modernisations were implemented to keep the aircraft aloft. They included a protection plate for the engine intake, a FLIR camera and a new all-weather radar.
Sixth Sea King
The second Sea King (RS-03) was taken out of service in August 2013, leaving only three machines available. However, even with a sixth Sea King bought in the UK to provide the remaining machines with spare parts, Brussels has said it will be very very complicated to keep the SAR going without the support if its NATO partner nations.
Problems with the NH90 are also bad news for the effectiveness of the Belgian Navy’s frigates. The Navy NH90s were supposed to increase their fighting capabilities, a task never done by the Sea Kings, but the MoD now says the first NH90s are now likely to operate from the combat vessels in 2025 at the earliest.
For those who love the Sea King in its Belgian special colour scheme, there is at least another year or two left to enjoy them above North Sea waves and in European skies.
The only true British military transport aircraft type in Royal Air Force service has turned 35 years old. On 3 September 1981 the BAe 146 took first to the skies, as a regional airliner, at Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Many years later the four RAF machines are part of the surviving active fleet of 220 BAe 146s worldwide.
Serving with No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron at RAF Nordholt two BAe 146 CCMk2s are there to transport members of the Royal Family and other senior government or military hotshots. A pair of grey painted BAe 146 CMk3s – based on the civilian QC variant – provide tactical air transport in both the passenger and palletised freight role.
RAF’s quartet are part of a successful British regional jetliner production when looking at the numbers. A total of 394 BAe 146s – and its successor the Avro RJ – were built until production ceased after 22 years of operations in November 2003 in Woodford, Ceshire. Together the type has made more than 12 million hours of flight.
In a civilian role the BAe 146s often provide freight services, for example with Virgin Australia. In parts of Europe the type is commonly deployed as city hopper, for example between Stockholm-Bromma and Brussels IAP.
In the aerial firefighting role three operators in North America will use the machine as a 3000 gallon fire extinguisher and are replacing older piston and turboprop aircraft.
With many of the aircraft having made 20,000 to 35,000 take-offs and landings, most of the BAe 146s are still very much able to double or almost triple that number the coming decades.
It is a kingdom known by its beautiful fjords, shock-and-awe inland scenery and very friendly, maybe slightly reserved people. Once a domain of Norman the Scandinavian country stretched on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean is prepping to be have some new toughness to show: the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. Airheadsfly.com dug into the Norwegian view of what is coming. This is what we got back from our sources inside the Norwegian Armed Forces.
As announced by the Royal Norwegian Air Force in July, a total of ten F-35s will be on strength by late Summer 2017. Three of these will be flown to Norway before the end of next year. Initially they will form part of the Operational Training and Evaluation (OT&E) effort, before becoming part of the first Norwegian F-35 squadron. As of 2019, the F-35 will take over roles and missions of the current F-16 fighter jet. In that year Norway expects to declare Initial Operational Capability with the F-35. But which roles will be taken first, has not officially been confirmed yet.
Evenes to become “combat base”
The future Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in the north will be at Evenes, near Narvik. It is a big move north from Bødo, Airheadsfly.com feels. Evenes was initially chosen as a Forward Operating Base that would mainly utilize existing infrastructure to support the F-35. But, under a more recently presented long-term plan, Evenes will be a “combat base” for the RNoAF, “including operations with new maritime patrol aircraft” that Norway will choose to replace the aging Lockheed P-3 Orions at Andenes.
“Evenes will also gain dedicated ground defence and ground based air defence systems.” However, no details on when the “significant investments in infrastructure will be made that go above and beyond what is required for the previously planned QRA functions of Evenes” a Norwegian Armed Forces spokesperson writes to Airheadsfly.com. The F-35s are to commence operations from Evenes in 2021 or 2022, with the new plans for Evenes first having to go through the Norwegian parliament for approval.
Current Norwegian Air Force bases of Andenes and Bardufoss were deemed not feasible for F-35 operations after the closure of Bødo. “The primary reason was noise concerns, along with other technical considerations related to the ability to conduct fighter operations in line with the stated requirements.” Bodø Air Station’s air strip has already been formally transferred to civilian aviation authorities, ahead of its future closure, after the last passenger aircraft landed there on 1 August 2016.
Joint Strike Missile
Oslo is confident that the F-35 will perform and will be better than than the F-16, also when it comes to operations in the Arctics. “The F-35 will provide a marked improvement over the F-16 in all aspects of High North operations. It offers superior range and situational awareness, and will allow Norway to operate freely throughout our air space under all conditions thanks to its survivability.
The addition of long-range precision guided weapons such as the Joint Strike Missile will also add considerably to the capabilities of the Norwegian Armed Forces.” The Joint Strike Missile (JSM) is developed by Norway’s own Kongsberg Defence Systems as a Anti Surface Warfare and Naval Fire Support weapon that even includes a Link 16 connection.
When it comes to operations a long way from base – like in the Arctics, over the Atlantic Ocean or down a long the many many miles of coast line – aerial refuelling might seem like a logic addition to the capabilities of the Air Force. But Norway is not considering any air tankers of its own, nor is it planning modification to the current fleet of four C-130J Hercules transport aircraft to be able to provide in-flight refueling. “However, Norway continues to explore the possibility of contributing to a multinational effort to strengthen the availability of air refueling tankers in Europe.”
Oslo is confident it can defend any of its territories, including Svalbard. Airheadsfly.com stands corrected that Svalbard – of which parts are allowed to be run by Russia – is in fact not a demilitarized zone. “Norway has full and absolute sovereignty over Svalbard. Svalbard is not demilitarized as such, however the Svalbard Treaty puts certain limitations on the use of military force against other states from or on Svalbard.
This does not exclude the use of military force pursuant to self-defense as defined in the UN-charter, article 51. The Norwegian government, as the sovereign on Svalbard, has the right and obligation to ensure that other states do not exploit Svalbard for military purposes. As such, Norway has the right to defend Svalbard militarily and Svalbard is an acknowledged part of NATO’s area of responsibility, as defined in the North Atlantic Treaty, article 6. Beyond that, we do not wish to discuss specific plans for responding to any potential future threats against Norwegian territory.”
During his presentation at the Lockheed Martin / RIAT 2016 press conference at RAF Fairford in July by RNoAF’s Lt. Col. Tesli, Norway’s main F-35 pilot and Norwegian F-35 detachment senior officer, the F-35 can expand the range of for example the navy by serving as its airborne recon/targeting gathering platform.
“Providing reconnaissance and targeting is not in itself a new role for the Norwegian Air Force. The F-35 forms part of a wider development where both platforms, sensors and weapons of all services gradually add range and capability, and where the F-35 in particular provides our joint force the ability to find, track, and effectively engage targets at significantly greater distances than we have been able to in the past,” a Norwegian F-35 Program spokesperson writes to Airheadsfly.com.
The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Mitsubishi (McDonnell Douglas) F-15J/DJ Eagles are facing an update program that is aimed solely at them being able to throw more into the face of advancing Chinese combat pilots.
That is in short the analysis of the Tokyo plans with the spearhead of the Japanese airborne air-defence. Of the more than 220 built F-15J/DJ air supiority fighters the first 40 will see their air-to-air missile load doubled to 16 pieces, half of it short-range, the other half medium-/long-range.
Sweeping the skies
According to sources in Tokyo once airborne these F-15s should be able to stop or slow down a large-scale Chinese air attack, sweeping the skies clean enough of Chinese fighter jets and attack aircraft to last another day. Japan military sources – quoted also by Nikkei – are said to be worried by a more and more active Chinese air force and naval air arm.
Earlier this year the JASDF moved one of its F-15CJ/DJ squadrons from Tsuiki Airbase in the Fukuoka area to Naha Airbase on Okinawa. Although closer to China by at least 215 miles (400 km) it leaves a direct flight line to mainland Japan and Tokyo more open. Apparently Japan is more worried with the Chinese reaching Okinawa for a limited military operation than it is for a large scale long-distance attack further into Japanese airspace.
Naha Air Base now has about 40 F-15CJ/DJ combat jets on strength. They may be the first to carry 16 air-to-air missiles in the near future.