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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.