All posts by AIRheads/MB

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)

Will this F-35 survive its enemy? We doubt it.

The survivability of the future main combat jet of the US armed forces and many of their allies is again in doubt. Despite praising Red Flag Exercise after-action reports on deployed US Air Force and US Marine Corps F-35s, Airheadsfly.com feels the effectiveness in tomorrow’s air war against – let’s say – Russian or even Swedish fighter jets is not as rosy as we are “made” to believe.

A “Twenty-to-One kill ratio” by US Air Force F-35As and “extremely capable across several mission sets” for US Marine Corps F-35Bs. Wonderful statements in beautiful analyses on the most modern 5th generation fighter jet of US-allied armed forces going to “war” over the combat ranges of Nevada from Nellis Air Force Base. If we believe these reports flying the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II into combat is like winning the jackpot on The Strip in adjacent Las Vegas city.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force is one of the many countries that will field the F-35 as a successor to the F-16 (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Royal Netherlands Air Force is one of the many countries that will field the F-35 as a successor to the F-16 (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Vegas

But what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? What is not clear in neither the US Air Force statements as in the recent released report written by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121’s Lt. Col. J.T. Bardo is how realistic the scenarios played at Red Flag are. We have no doubt they do mirror future war situations, but we do question if the more capable enemy aircraft are really put into play.

“Overall, the F-35 was far more survivable than the participating legacy aircraft,” commander Bardo writes on the six Marines F-35Bs participating in Red Flag 2016-3. Of course, the newer jet should be able to do a better job than the 4th generation F-16 Block 30 and 40s that were deployed. But can it match the Russian Sukhoi Su-37s or Swedish SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen MS20s?

The Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E) (Image © Sukhoi Company)
The Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E): F-35 killer? (Image © Sukhoi Company)

Adversaries

The “professional adversaries” (Aggressor aircraft) during the Red Flag 2016-3 were above all 1980/1990s-era F-16s of the US Air Force 64th Aggressor Squadron as well as 1960s-era McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks flown by the Draken International paramilitary organisation. Hardly comparable to the most modern aircraft of today.

When it comes to manoeuvrability and range the F-35 is by far outmatched by its modern Russian rivals, such as the Sukhoi Su-35BM/S equipped with trust-vectoring (movable) engines. The Lightning II flies only a two-thirds (1,200 mls / 2,200 km) of the distance the Su-35 (1,980 mls / 3,600 km), while having tankers in a bandit-rich environment is not considered a likely scenario.

Once upgraded to MS20 standard Swedish-made Gripen aircraft are said to be able to “see” stealthy adversaries very clearly (Image © Elmer van Hest)

JAS 39 Gripen MS20

True, the F-35 has the stealth advantage but according to sources within Swedish SAAB and the Swedish Air Force the newest MS20 software upgrade of the JAS 39 Gripen jet enables the aircraft’s radar and other systems to detect and counter these stealthy aircraft quite well. Although it is unlikely American jocks will fly against Vikings the new Meteor missile has given the JAS 39 Gripen – as well as the French Rafale – a lethal weapon against enemy aircraft over the 60 miles (100 km) range.

The Swedes have fielded the upgraded Gripen MS20 and Meteor mainly to cope with the Russian Sukhoi PAK A/T-50 stealthy air-supiority fighter and the non-stealthy Flankers of the 4+ generation. But the technology as such can – in the wrong hands – quite likely turn a F-35 into a smoking hole in the ground as well.

A French Rafale launching the new BVR Meteor AAM (Image © French Ministry of Defence)
A French Rafale launching the new BVR Meteor AAM (Image © French Ministry of Defence)

S-400

What the largest country of Scandinavia has, is quite likely to be available soon in some sort to the jocks flying for Moscow. Add the newest generation of Russian electronic counter measures and the Red Bear outclasses the American Eagle. Especially if the threat from the ground is added. Russia’s S-400/40N6 surface-to-air missile system can kill targets up to 250 miles (400 km) away at speeds up to Mach 5.9 (4,500 mph or 2,000 m/s).

Moreover, Russia is traditionally keeping a better pace between aircraft and missile technology, while US puts more money into its aircraft technology and let its pilots often fly with somewhat antiquated anti-air weaponry and having its ground forces operating with less-good-than-what-the-Russians-have missile batteries.

An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Believe vs Make-believe

We do believe the F-35s state-of-the-art sensors give its users a great asset in any war scenario, but with still lacking basic things as stand-off weapons, the ability to bring just four air-to-air missiles to the air war in order to remain stealthy (all weapons internal) and with the newest electronic counter and detect developments made by other defence manufacturers worldwide the survivability as advertised by the Red Flag after-action reports may very well be nothing more than make-believe.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Killer or prey? A hoovering F-35B at the Royal Internationl Air Tattoo in 2016 (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Warp speed for Brazilian freighter/tanker KC-390

Latin America’s most exciting aviation “thing” is moving up to WARP speed. The Embraer KC-390 is looking good, flying pre-operational testing missions with Brazilian Air Force (FAB) Northrop F-5Ms.

With the first in-flight refuelling mission and the first dry Wing Air Refuelling Pod (WARP) testing done last month, the Força Aérea Brasileira is understandingly anxious to get this new aircraft into its inventory.

In the near future the FAB’s combat aircraft can be refuelled in mid-air with 90 ft (30m) long refuelling hoses, bringing outposts of Brazil’s vast space within easier striking or air defence reach if ever necessary.

Into-tanker
The country’s long reach combat capability has been crippled ever since the country retired the final of its four KC-137s in October 2013. The two KC-130s that could be used for the in-flight refuelling task are in dire need of back-up – especially as they may have to be used for basic transport duty in crisis situations. Being able to equip the 28 production KC-390s on order with WARPs will give the FAB a very nice flexibility, that will be further beefed up by three refurbished-into-tanker KC-767s the country ordered with Israel Aerospace Industries.

First flight of the new KC-390 (Image © Embraer S.A.)
The new KC-390, seen here during its first flight. (Image © Embraer S.A.)

Fast jets scenario
As a freighter the KC-390 is already quite an ambitious project for Brazil’s own Embraer, making it the companies heaviest aircraft it ever made. Adding the tanker functionality doubles – or triples – the challenge. Key is not to have turbulence caused by the tanker to mess up the refuelling of the receiving aircraft behind it, and to find a operation speed that works both for the flight performance of the tanker as well as the thirsty fast jets in an operational scenario.

Test missions
Therefore Embraer has currently two test vehicles for in-flight airborne, with a third being added to the prototype fleet soon. Plans call for the final in-flight refuelling test to be done in November or December 2018, after which at least 2,000 flight hours have been made on these missions alone.

Orders & Versions
Likely to enter service in 2019, Embraer already chalked up orders for 28 KC-390s for the Brazilian Air Force. There’s furhter interest from Argentina,  Chile,  Colombia, the Czech Republic and Portugal, with the latter two already signing a Letter of Intent (LoI) for the purchase of two and six KC-390s respectively.

Also, the Royal New Zealand Air Force seems to be very interested to buy five aircraft. Moreover, the Brazilian Postal Service is thinking about buying 15 civilian versions.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: WARP test of the KC-390 seen from a Brazilian Air Force F-5M cockpit (Image © Força Aérea Brasileira)

Ukrainian legacy keeps small Russian wings airborne

Ignore Russia took control of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 for a few moments, ignore the ongoing fights in Ukraine’s eastern areas with Russian troop, intelligence and command & control involvement. The Russian military is still building its logistic strength on the legacy from the country it has been trying to destabilize for years. For its short-haul fixed-wing flights.

Designed and originally made by Antonov in Ukrainian Kiev, the new Antonov AN-140-100 turboprop aircraft is still finding its way to units of the Russian armed forces, be it in small numbers. The latest passenger and cargo aircraft of the type went to the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet, on 14 February this year.

How many officially are in service is hard to say. Moscow planned to have at least 20 operational, but after the conflict with Ukraine resulted in an industrial break-up between Antonov and the Russian partners, the air frames already in Russia are planned to be finished with solely Russian equipment. As far as our sources go, we estimate the number of operational AN-140-100s within the Russian armed forces to be between 8 and 14, but Moscow wishes for more. Russian Aviacor is believed to deliver at least six of the machines it had on its premises in various stages of unfinished construction.

The AN-140-100 is able to transport up to 52 people or about 19,000 lbs (about 8,500) of cargo (including fuel weight) over 2,290 miles (3,700 km) of distance. It can operate from unpaved airstrips, which makes it an ideal aircraft to operate in island rich environments where unprepared or short airstrips are common.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Official release photo of the AN-140-100 like the one recently delivered to the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet (Image © Russian Ministry of Defence)

Italy’s newest jet trainer airborne

The newest jet trainer made in Italy went to the skies for the first time on 29 December 2016, its maker Leonardo-Fnmeccanica Aircraft announced today. In rather adverse weather conditions, a spokesman confirmed, resulting in the lack of proper photographs of the achievement.

Hence the only photoshopped offical image we could find. Actually, making the first flight in bad weather is something we rather like. It may mean the manufacturer is confident of its product.

The prototype of the new Aermacchi M-345HET (High Efficiency Trainer) two-seat basic jet trainer took of from Venegono Superiore airfield in Varese, Italy, piloted by a crew of two: Quirino Bucci and Giacomo Iannelli from the Leonardo Aircraft Division.

As expected Quirino Bucci, Project Test Pilot Trainers of Leonardo Aircraft Division, expressed great satisfaction at the end of the 30 minute flight. “The aircraft conducted itself perfectly, meeting the expectations of the design parameters while showing excellent performance. The engine in particular demonstrated a great capacity to react to regime changes, which is a fundamental characteristic for a basic training aircraft.”

The M-345’s test campaign will be completed within 2017. The next tests will check the advanced avionics systems, the engine and the flight envelope expansion, including altitude, speed and manoeuvrability. Clean the aircraft is projected to reach 420 knots max level speed and a climb rate of 5,200 foot per minute. It should be operate up to 40,000 feet and as far as 760 nautical miles (1,410 km) with internal fuel. With 2 external fuel tanks the ferry range is aimed to be 1,000 nm (1,850 km).

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: The only official image of the M-345 HET released by Leonardo is a photoshopped one. It first flight took place on 29 December in bad weather conditions. (Image © Leonardo-Finmeccanica)