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.
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.
Naming a new bomber aircraft is the easy and cheap part. Getting it of the ground, into production and into combat is the easy and hard part. But that is exactly where the US Air Force and Northrop Grumman are now at with the newly named B-21 Raider, until now only known as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) or B-21. It should replace B-1 and B-2 bombers in the next decade or so.
The name ‘Raider’ was chosen out of suggestions made by US military service members and made public on Monday 19 September by 101 year-old World War II bomber pilot Richard E. Cole at the Air, Space & Cyber Conference 2016.
Other than its newly revealed name, the only thing known about the B-21 is that an artist’s impression shows an bomber aircraft that largely resembles a B-2 Stealth bomber. What should be different however, is the price tag. Whereas the B-2 Stealth program resulted in a staggering price tag of 2 billion USD a piece, the current plans are to aqcuire 80 to 100 B-21 Raiders against a price tag of 550 million USD a piece
Yes, so more B-21s than B-2s are to be purchased. But anyone with a bit of aviation and defense knowledge knows that a unit price of 550 million will never be achieved. The actual aircraft will of course end up a lot more expensive, although nobody seems to know or willing to predict how much more expensive it will be. Senator John McCain previously tried to get the Pentagon to divulge more about the total cost.
And that’s a wise thing to request, given the fact that other major weapons program that is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning, with a total program cost that now stand at roughly 400 billion USD. And that’s costs shared with other nations. The costs of developing and producing the B-21 Raider will definitely not be shared with other nations, given the strategic importance of the program for the US.
The B-21 Raider may well be a raider of US taxpayer’s money before anything else. The hard part, is to not let that happen.
The third edition of Czech-led international Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) exercise Ample Strike kicked off in the Czech Republic this week. For the next three week, no less than seventeen Allied and Partnership for Peace nations train their JTACs, aircrew and ground units in realistic, complex and demanding scenarios.
Ample Strike is aimed at providing realistic training for controllers on the ground in a combat environment. “It offers the perfect venue for effective collaboration between air and ground, forces preparing them to respond to joint missions whenever needed,” said Czech Air Force Commander Jaromir Sebesta. The exercise continues the tradition of similar exercise Ramstein Rover in Germany.
Taking part are a total of 34 aircraft from Lithuania, Slovenia, Germany, Poland, Hungary and the US, plus troops from even more countries. The US sends B-1B and B-52H long range bombers, operating from Fairford airbase in the UK. Most aircraft operate from airbases within the Czech Republic.
Novelty Adding to exercise complexity and a novelty for Ample Strike, are air-to-air refuelling missions during tactical strike and bomber missions. US Air Force KC-135R tankers will refuel
not only the German Tornado jets, Czech and Hungarian Gripen aircraft, but also the US strategic bombers.
Last year, Ample Strike achieved a record 1600 control runs, allowing JTACs to keep up their skills of controlling aircraft in support forces on the ground. In 2016, Ample Strike is not about exceeding this number, but about providing even more complex and challenging integrated scenarios.
Russia this week officially confirmed it has based Tu-22M Backfire bombers at Hamedan airbase in Iran for strike missions over Syria. Pictures show several Backfires being prepared on the ground in surroundings resembling those of the Iranian desert.
Backfires have seen use over Syria a number of times already, supporting forces loyal to president Assad in their fight against rebel forces. A number of videos showed up of the Backfires apparently ‘carpet’ bombing rebel positions, which raises fear of even more civilian casualties in war torn Syria.
Previously, the bombers flew all the way from Russia for missions over the area. Basing the aircraft in Iran allows for much shorter missions.
The basing of the bombers also means Moscow is getting a stronger foothold in the area, which wil be reinforced when the sole Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov supposedly arrives in the Mediterranean this Fall. The ship should bring Ka-52 attack helicopters in theater,m according to sources in Moscow.
The movements are also concerning in light of the flickering conflict in South East Ukraine, where Russian and Ukranian weapons and personnel are facing each other. Russia’s latest movement could be seen as a way to shield off the entire Black Sea from any Western militaries taking an interest in the Ukrainian situation.