Tag Archives: Hungarian Air Force

Baltic Air Policing: report from a hot spot

It’s as grey and cold a day as a November day can be in Lithuania, and from above the clouds comes the noise of jets. Since 2004, it’s NATO fighter aircraft making that noise, guarding the Baltic states while on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). Today, Hungarian Saab Gripens are responsible for the noise as they perform a tango (training) scramble on a Lithuanian Air Force C-27J Spartan. A report from a hot spot.

The aircraft that were intercepted during those alpha scrambles, did they have red stars painted on them? At Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania, Hungarian JAS39 Gripen pilot Viktor Langó smiles a knowing smile. “We intercepted Su-27 Flankers and An-26 transport aircraft, but also some civil aircraft. It’s our job to go up there and see what unknown aircraft near the Baltic states are up to. We follow NATO’s rules of engagement on each intercept.” Do those rules allow waving or other gestures to Russian pilots? Again, a knowing smile.

For over a decade, NATO fighter aircraft have been on (QRA) at both Šiauliai and more recently, also at Ämari air base in Estonia. The Hungarians deployed four Saab Gripens and 80 personnel to Šiauliai, while the Germans sent Eurofighter Typhoons and staff to Ämari. The Hungarian detachment is currently in the lead over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Hungarian Air Force Saab JAS39 Gripen on Quick Reaction Alert. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Scramble! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Scramble! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Ready for engine start… (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
… and minutes later it’s up and away. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Last year saw a dramatic increase in Russian air activity near the Baltics and most of Europe, forcing NATO to temporarily reinforce the Baltic mission. At Šiauliai – the airbase that continues to see considerable modifications in light of NATO’s presence – the Hungarians still see Russian activity, although it seems safe to say Russia’s current operations in Syria do have an effect on their Baltic ops. NATO in 2015 also choose to reduce the Baltic mission to it’s regular size after the initial expansion.

The four Hungarian Gripens since September flew 230 hours over the Baltics, armed with guns, AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. “In preparation, we went to Sweden in the Spring for a live firing exercise”, says Langó, a 600 hour Gripen pilot. “Also, exercise Lion Effort 2015 in the Czech Republic provided valuable training.”

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
QRA flights are always flown in pairs. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Gripen shows its Sidewinder and AMRAAM missiles, plus its fake cockpit painted on the underside. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Hungarian Gripens clocked up 230 hours over the Baltics, plus over a dozen alpha scrambles. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

However, it’s not like the Hungarian Air Force doesn’t know how to provide a QRA, as they have been doing the very same at their homebase of Kecskemét in Hungary for years. Maintaining two simultaneous QRA’s in two different countries takes effort, however. A shift in the Iceland Air Policing mission may be on the cards in 2016. Luckily, the loss of two Hungarian Gripens earlier in 2015 (see here and here) doesn’t pose a big problem. Langó: “We are working to repair the single seat aircraft that was damaged.”

The Gripen is a ‘small but smart’ aircraft, says Langó. Similar to the Czech Air Force, the Hungarians are set to explore the Gripen’s air-to-ground capabilities with the use of Litening targeting pods.

Over Šiauliai, the clouds reveal two Saab Gripens returning from their tango scramble. Immediately, they are prepared again for the real thing. It may still be a grey and cold day, the Baltics remain a hot spot between NATO on the one side, and those in the red starred aircraft on the other side.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): Up close over the clouds: a Hungarian Gripen. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
As grey as a November day can be. Clouds shroud the Lithuanian country side. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Study of a Gripen. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Four modern aircraft shelters have been erected at Šiauliai, housing the QRA aircraft. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Back after another sortie. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Gripen pilot finds himself at the center of attention. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Gripen pilot finds himself at the center of attention. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Lithuanian Air Force C-27J Spartans regularly find themselves as targets for practice interceptions - or as photo platforms. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Lithuanian Air Force C-27J Spartans regularly find themselves as targets for practice interceptions – or as photo platforms. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

NATO’s Baltic Air Policing down to eight aircraft

NATO is cutting down on its Baltic Air Policing involvement. The detachment of four Belgian Air Component F-16s at Malbork Airbase in Poland has already left, leaving the air defence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the hands of only twelve and soon only eight fighters on two in stead of three different airbases.

The diminishing of the air combat force has been acknowledged by the ministries of defence in the Baltic republics.

As of September the Hungarian Air Force will base four of its 12 operational SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen jets on Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, while the German Air Force will fly four of its Eurofighter EF2000s (Typhoon) from Ämari Air Base in Estonia.

Until a week ago NATO had sixteen fighter jets committed to its Baltic flank, with the Belgian detachment in Poland and Italian Air Force and Royal Air Force EF2000 Typhoons being lead by the Royal Norwegian Air Force with four Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons.

Luftwaffe dual-seat Eurofighter EF2000(T) with serial 30+31 touch-and-go at Fliegerhorst Wittmundhafen Niedersachsen, Germany. (Image © Marcel Burger)
A Luftwaffe dual-seat Eurofighter EF2000(T) (Image © Marcel Burger)

The move to cut the force by 50 percent is controversial and has probably a cost-saving background, as Russian military air activity in the region stays at a decade high. However, Poland retains one of its own MiG-29 Fulcrum air defence fighter units at Malbork, so some back-up is available. NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don’t have any fighter jets of their own.

The deployment in Lithuania puts an extra strain on the Hungarian Air Force, which had two Gripen crashes lately likely because of mistakes might by their crews. (Check our newstream!)

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A Hungarian Air Force (Magyar Légierő) SAAB JAS 39D Gripen taking off during the 2014 NATO Tiger Meet. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Hungarian Gripens’ first reach for the tanker

Hungarian Air Force Saab Gripen pilots performed air-to-air refueling for the first time last June, flying alongside Swedish pilots and using a US Air Force KC-135 as a tanker aircraft. The sorties were flown over Hungary and also involved a Swedish Air Force two seater Saab Gripen, probably as a result of the crash of a Hungarian two seater last May.

The exercise was held between 21 June and 30 June at Kecskemét airbase in central Hungary. “To get the right mission strength, we need to have air-to-air refueling, that’s why we turned to the US to get some AAR capability and initial training,” said Hungarian air force Brig. Gen. Csebe Ugrik.

Three instructor pilots from the Swedish air force Gripen Operational Testing and Evaluation unit were responsible for the training syllabus, basic training and the Hungarian instructor pilot training. After three days of academics taught by representatives from the two guest air forces involved, the pilots took flight for hands-on familiarization.

The US tanker and crew involved, belonged the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall in the UK.

(Image © US Air Force /  Senior Airman Kate Thornton)
(Image © US Air Force / Senior Airman Kate Thornton)

The tanker and Gripen aircrew flew approximately six hours daily for six days. After days of performing only dry contacts with the tanker, the pilots were confident enough and took fuel for the first time, proving they were ready to perform air refueling safely and correctly.

Hungarian Gripen pilot Lt. Col. Tamas Szvat commented: “Now we could finally start this training and get this very important force multiplier capability for the Hungarian Gripen fleet. We now have  a capability the Hungarian air force has never had before.”

Featured image (top): As seen from the tanker. (Image © US Air Force /  Senior Airman Kate Thornton)

(Image © US Air Force /  Senior Airman Kate Thornton)
(Image © US Air Force / Senior Airman Kate Thornton)


Saab put in awkward position on Gripen crash Hungary

Hungarian Defence Minister Csaba Hende has put Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab in an awkward position, by telling journalists of the Napi Gazdaság daily on 15 June that the recent hard landing of a JAS 39C Gripen of the Hungarian Air Force due to nose wheel problem is probably caused by a software bug.

By running ahead of any official findings of the investigation in the semi-crash at Kecskemet Airbase of the Gripen jet Mr. Hende does exactly what he told journalist he didn’t want to do. But according to the Defence Minister the Swedish Air Force had a similar situation where the nose wheel didn’t want to react, something Airheadsfly.com was not able to verify (yet) with Swedish authorities. Or Saab in Linköping for the matter, where senior leadership probably wishes to safeguard the relationship with current and potential new buyers by staying low and are quite likely less happy with the pre-mature statement of the Hungarian Defence Minister – whether it will prove to be true or false.

Good news
However, Mr. Csaba Hende also had some good news to tell: the Gripen C in question can very likely be repaired and put back into service. Hungarian Air Force officer Sándor Kádár, who piloted the Gripen in question, was able to put the jet relatively safely on the ground, before ejecting from the plane.

The “software bug” remark comes as the pressure on the Hungarian Defence Ministry and the Hungarian Air Force (HunAF) is mounting. The Gripen C incident at Kecskemet came only a few weeks after the high-profile crash of a HunAF JAS 39D Gripen two-seater at Čáslav Air Base in the Czech Republic during tri-annual Saab Gripen exercise Lion Effort 2015. Initial findings of that incident – with the plane believed to be a write-off – is that the very senior aircrew made a mistake.

Like the Czech Air Force, the Hungarian Air Force leased 14 Gripen planes from Sweden – down to 12 after the two recent crashes. Of the other Gripen users, only Sweden lost a five aircraft, but none to a technical issue with the plane itself. Apart from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Sweden the other JAS 39 operators are Thailand, South Africa and soon Brazil.

The Hungarian jets would be owned by the country’s tax payers in 2026. The Czech lease the jets till at least 2027. The Slovak Air Force is very much interested in striking a similar deal for possibly 12 aircraft, and is already slowly co-operating with the Gripen squadron at Čáslav. Airheadsfly.com editors Elmer van Hest and Dennis Spronk paid an exclusive visit to the Czech Air Force’s JAS 39 base some time ago.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: A Hungarian Air Force JAS 39C Gripen on approach (Image © Marcel Burger)

Hungary: another Saab Gripen incident

A Hungarian Air Force Saab Gripen was involved in an incident at Kecskemét air base in Hungary, several Hungarian media reported on Wednesday morning. The pilot is reported as being ok, but there are reasons for worry: this is the second incident with a Hungarian Saab Gripen following the crash of a two-seater in the Czech Republic on 19 May.

According to the reports, a single-seat JAS 39C made an emergency landing at about 11:00 local time following gear trouble. The nose gear got stuck after take-off, forcing the pilot to burn fuel prior to an emergency landing. The pilot ejected and the aircraft ended up in the grass next to the runway. The aircraft appears to be repairable. A video of the landing is here at min 0:40.

The incident is a blow to the Hungarian Air Force, which only had 13 Gripens left after the crash in May.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A Hungarian Air Force Gripen. (Image © Marcel Burger)