Category Archives: Editors’ Choice

France forces Mirage 2000Ds to fight on and go low

Despite having about 100 Dassault Rafale B/Cs in the Air Force inventory, France sees itself forced to keep its older Mirage 2000D operational to keep the ground attack capabilities of the Armée de l’Air at proper levels. It even wants the Deltas to drop below altitudes they were not meant to do when designed – learning from recent missions in the skies of Southwest Asia.

Dassault Aviation received the order – by French defence procurement agency DGA – to renovate 55 Mirage 2000Ds. The modification include weapon system updates, the gun pod and Mica missiles of the aircraft version of the Mirage 2000 that is especially adapted for ground attack.

The Mirage 2000D entered service in 1993 and is the “less terrifying” sister of the Mirage 2000N designed for nuclear strike. In fact, the aircraft are basically the same with the Delta used for long-range strikes with conventional Apache, Scalp and Mica missiles. The first flight of the 2000D was in 1991, roughly 5 years after the 2000N. Lacking an on-board gun, has proven to be a miss during recent combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya (Operations Harmattan / Unified Protector) and Central Africa / Mali (Serval, now Barkhane) and combating the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria (ISIS / Daesh(.

Mirage 2000D operations

During the operations of the last few years the Mirage 2000Ds often flew with just a pair of 500 lbs GBU-12 laser-guided or GBU-49 gps-/laser-guided bombs and two external fuel tanks. Adding the gun pod means the French Air Force wants to add a more effective close-air support to the Mirage 2000D – something that the aircraft was not designed to do but may work well in low-threat environments. The new modifications are believed to have been mostly “inspired” by the recent deployments against ISIS / Daesh.

The newest French multi-role fighters Dassault Rafale B (two-seat) and C (single-seat) initially were introduced with air-to-air capabilities (F1) only. The latest Dassault Rafale B/C have been delivered in F3 standard (fully multi-role, including nuclear strike) but reportedly not all Rafale F1s have been fully upgraded yet to F3.

Mirage 2000D bases

French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds fly from BA133 Nancy/Ochey (France), BA188 Djibouti/Ambouli (East Africa) plus a pair normally deployed to Niamey/Diori Hamani in Niger in support of Operation Barkhane.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com senior contributor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A Mirage 2000 taking off (Image © Elmer van Hest)

‘Swedish Air Force most capable combat force northern Europe’

Since 11 July the Swedish Air Force has reaffirmed its dominant position as the most capable combat force of Northern Europe. Reaching Initial Operational Capability with the indigenous SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen MS20 armed with Meteor outclasses – according to experts and Airheadsfly.com – currently all other nations in the greater Baltic Sea area – apart from Russia.

At the moment the Gripen is the only combat aircraft in the world flying the new MBDA Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM). Moreover the MS20 firmware update of the JAS 39´s enhances the technological status of the Gripen even further.

Armed with 88 operational Gripen C/Ds – with many being fully updated and Meteor-ready relatively soon – the Flygvapnet keeps the F-16 equipped air arms of Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland; the F/A-18 equipped Finnish Air Force; and the Eurofighter EF2000 / Tornado equipped Luftwaffe and Royal Air Force in its rear-view mirror.

A Czech Gripen during Lion Effort 2015 (Image © Martin Král)
A Czech Gripen during Lion Effort 2015 (Image © Martin Král)

Czech Air Force

NATO allies flying the Gripen jet take the new capabilities too, with the Czech Air Force jumping to get its 14 Gripen jets to MS20 standard as well. Apart from better missions systems the MS20 gives Gripen operators more options when it comes to air-to-air, air-to-surface and ISTAR (information, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance).

Meteor BVRAAM

The MBDA Meteor is the most significant new weapon system in the MS20 configuration. The ramjet-powered BVRAAM is probably the most advanced air-to-air weapon currently deployed it the West. It has a range of 63 miles (100 km), with MBDA boasting a “no escape zone” of about 40 miles (60 km) – three times more than any similar missile of today.

A SAAB Gripen armed with the RBS15 long range Air-launched Anti Ship Missile. (Image © SAAB Group)
A SAAB Gripen armed with the RBS15 long range Air-launched Anti Ship Missile. (Image © SAAB Group)

Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow 2016 on Monday Major General Mats Helgesson, Chief-of-Staff of the Swedish Air Force, could not hide his pride.

“After extensive testing by Swedish Defence Materiel Organisation and the Gripen Operational Test and Evaluation unit, all of the new MS20 functions including the Meteor missile are now fully integrated with Gripen. The Swedish Air Force is now in its Initial Operational Capability phase with the Meteor. The Meteor missile is currently the most lethal radar-guided missile in operational service, and the Swedish Air Force is the only operational user so far.”

Rafales

Probably the Dassault Rafales of the French Air Force will be next flying the Meteor operational. After that the Eurofighter Typhoons of the Royal Air Force and the air arms of Germany, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Italy will follow. The RAF and Aeronautica Militare Italiana plan to field the Meteor as well on their future Lockheed Martin F-35s; while Rafales of the Egyptian and Qatar Emiri Air Force will likely use it as well.

Air-to-ground Gripen

Back to Sweden, where the MS20 update of the Gripen also enables the jets to fly newer air-to-ground weapons, like the Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb for a precision strike. Equipped with four launchers of four SDBs each, a single Gripen carry 16 of these into combat while retaining its counter-air weapons. The new Gripen E, which was rolled out earlier this Spring at SAAB in Linköping, will even have a bigger carry-load.

ISTAR and nuclear Gripen

New ISTAR capabilities on the Gripen C/D MS20 include a modified recon pod providing infra-red sensors and real-time display of images in the cockpit, plus increased data recording.

The Link 16 datalink has been improved so that fighters and other units can more quickly exchange information with each other – making the force flying the Gripen in theory more effective against its opponent – which will come of very handy in the Close Air Support role.

The Gripen MS20 is also fully operational now when having to fly in zones where chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons (CBRN) have been used.

Spearhead

The new SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen MS20 armed with its new weapons will for some time to come make the Swedish Air Force the spearhead of technological advantage in the greater Baltic Sea area – handy for a country which is the centre of it from a geographical and even military/political perspective – having a full flirt with NATO and questionable meetings with the Russian Air Force.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com senior contributor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top):One of the two US Air Force B-52s in formation with Swedish Air Force SAAB JAS 39 Gripen jets passing by the USS San Antonio off the coast of Southern Sweden on 13 June 2015 (Image © US Navy)

RAAF will get eight, maybe twelve Poseidons

Touchdown for the third Boeing P-8I of the Indian Navy (Image © Boeing)
Apart from Australia, the US and Indian navies selected the P-8 as their future MPA/MSA (Image © Boeing)

The Australian Government has approved the acquisition of eight Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft from the United States. The aircraft will replace the Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orions that served the continent nation for over four decades, the government announced on 21 February 2014.

“These state-of-the-art aircraft will dramatically boost Australia’s ability to monitor its maritime approaches and patrol over 2.5 million square kilometres of our marine jurisdiction – an area equating to nearly 4 per cent of the world’s oceans”, writes a government spokesperson in a press release.

The first aircraft will be delivered in 2017, with all eight aircraft fully operational by 2021. The Government has also approved an option for a further four aircraft subject to the outcomes of the Defence White Paper review.

Australia will augment the Poseidons with high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles. The P-8A will in Royal Australian Air Force service conduct search and rescue, anti-submarine and maritime strike missions using torpedoes and Harpoon missiles. The acquisition of the eight P-8A aircraft will cost approximately US$4 billion, including support facilities.

Modernising the RAAF
Australia is modernising its air assets over the last decade creating one of the most modern air forces worldwide. The orders/deliveries to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) since the beginning of the century include 5 Airbus KC-30A MRTT tanker/transport aircraft, 6 E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C), 14 Lockheed F-35A Lightning IIs with a requirement for 58 of these 5th generation multi-role fighters, 24 Boeing F/A-18EF Super Hornet multi-role fighters, 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, 10 Alenia Aermacchi/L-3 C-27J Spartan to complement the six C-130J Hercules tactical airlifters, 6 Boeing C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifters, 3 CL-604 Challenger VIP-jets and 2 Boeing 737 Business Jets (BBJ).

Navy/Army
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has 24 Sikorsky MH-60R Sea Hawk maritime helicopters on order with three Bell 429 training/utility helicopters flying within the RAN since 2002. The RAN and the Royal Australian Army (RAA) also are to receive a combined total of 46 NH Industries MRH90 Taipan helicopters, with 6 for the Navy. The RAA is further getting seven new Boeing CH-47F Chinook medium-lift helicopters with the delivery of 22 Eurocopter Tiger ARH attack helicopters completed in 2011.

Source: Government of Australia