All posts by AIRheads/EH

US Air National Guard considers getting rid of F-15s

The US Air National Guard is considering to retire its fleet of F-15C/D Eagle jets currently in use for air defense, and replacing them with F-16s. If this goes ahead, the F-16s would have to be upgraded with better radars and more endurance.

The announcement came as a surprise on Wednesday. The Air National Guard used the F-15 for Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) plus other air defense duties, but finds the 45-year old design  to expensive to use. Nevertheless, the F-15 is still regarded as the best air superiority fighter jet ever made, with 104 consecutive air-to-air victories in its career against zero loses.


What is most surprising however, is the mention of using F-16s to replace the Eagles. A number of Air National Guard units already flew F-16s before they started using their current F-15s. In the past, a specialized F-16ADF (Air Defense Fighter) was used by these units, as well as F-16C/D jets. The F-16ADF was never deemed very suited and was therefore retired in the Nineties.


Using F-16s again for air defense would mean upgrades in terms of radar and endurance. Upgrading retired US Air Force F-16s – which are now making way for the F-35 – into F-16V models is a likely option, but even new-built jets are being considered. These will then have to be built in South Carolina, since Lockheed Martin is to move F-16 production from Texas to here. This September, the last F-16 will leave current Lockheed Martin production in Fort Worth, Texas.

Active service

Of note: the US Air Force also still uses F-15C/D models in active service, operating them from airbase in the continental US and from airbases in the UK and Japan. The Air National Guard announcement therefore seems a bit odd and perhaps should mostly been seen in the light of Donald Trump’s plan to increase defense spending. The Air National Guard seems to want to make sure it gets its piece of the pie.


France starts work on new Rafale variant

French aircraft manufacturer Dassault has received the green light from Paris to start working on the Rafale F4, the latest variant of the French fighter jet. Minister for Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian this week authorized the start of development of the new Rafale F4, which follows the F3R standard.

Dassault in its response said it wishes to thank the French Ministry of Defense, the Defense procurement agency (DGA), the French Air Force and the Navy for their confidence.

The new variant is part of a continuous effort to adapt the Rafale to changing needs through a succession of standards, according to Dassault. It’s safe to say the F4 will incorporate increased performance and weapons capabilities, plus possibly increased situational awareness and information sharing features also. As early as 2023, a first version of the F4 standard will follow the F3R standard, which is scheduled for qualification in 2018.

“I am also delighted that the Defense Ministry underlines the need to continue with acquisition of the Rafale, beyond the 4th tranche currently in production, in order primarily to meet the needs of the French Air Force”, stated Dassault CEO Eric Trappier.

German Tornados in South Africa

Germany has deployed four Tornado fighter bombers to South Africa in an exercise named Two Oceans. The Tornados involved belong to Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 at Buechel airbase and are of the latest ASSTA 3.0 (Avionics System Software Tornado Ada) variant, which means the jets are capable of using laser-targeted Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

The four Tornados along with 150 personnel operate from Overberg airbase in the Cape province of South Africa. Overberg is home to the South African Air Force’s Test Flight Development Centre (TFDC). Over nearby ranges, Tornado crews will test their JDAM-capability against moving ground targets, among other things.

The Tornado has been in German service since 1980, but the number of jets has been greatly reduced over the last two decades, with the Eurofighter Typhoon acting as replacement. Two wings continue to operate the Tornado though, and could very well do so for up to 15 more years. And that’s unlike the British, who will dispose of their remaining Tornado jets in 2019.

© 2017 editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A German Tornado pilot explores the South African coast line. (Image © Luftwaffe)

(Image © Luftwaffe)

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 contributor Jorge Ruivo

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

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 editor Elmer van Hest