Tag Archives: Hungary

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)

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)

“No technical error on crashed Gripen”

The Hungarian Air Force JAS 39D Gripen fighter that crashed at Čáslav Airbase in the Czech Republic this week did not have any technical problems, Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnický told journalists and the national Czech broadcasting company on Friday 22 May 2015.



On Tuesday the two-seat Swedish made multirole fighter went off the end of the runway and ended in the field behind it with the entire cockpit section ripped from the plane, as well as the major part of the tail and many smaller items of the plane. But remarkably most of the wing section and body of the plane were largely intact. Fortunately, the crew ejected just before impact and are okay.

Czech Defence Minister Stropnický did not want to add more details to his Friday statement, apart from it is the preliminary finding by the joint Czech-Hungarian crash investigation board that is working at the scene.

In Sweden the staff and personnel of Gripen manufacturer Saab are reportedly clearly relieved with the news, as no Gripens have crashed yet because there was something wrong with the plane. Of the other five crashes, all with Swedish Air Force aircraft, only one was related to a technical issue, but with the G-suit of the pilot – not with the plane.

Senior staff
The Gripen D that crashed at Caslav did not take part in the Lion Effort 2015 international training exercise at the base, but was a day-visitor with possible senior Hungarian Air Force staff on board. According to eye-witnesses the plane had a way to high speed after it touched down. Why the JAS 39D or the pilot didn’t brake quickly enough, is not known at this time.

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

Hungarian hook-ups

Hungarian Air Force Saab Gripen pilots are to commence air-to-air refueling training (AAR) this year, in preparation for Baltic Air Policing duties later in the year. It marks the first time Hungarian pilots will perform AAR in their Saabs, the first of which was delivered in 2006.

The AAR capability is not seen as a necessity for the Baltic mission, but as an added flexibility. It is likely a Swedish Air Force KC-130 will serve as a flying gas station for the Hungarians, like it did in the past already for Czech Gripen pilots. Hungarian training is expected to begin mid-2015, in order to have pilots ready before deployment to the Baltics.

Hungary has 12 JAS 39 Gripen C single seater and two JAS 39D Gripen two-seaters at its disposal, with a lease contract running until 2026.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Three of fourteen Hungarian Gripens in one shot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Three of fourteen Hungarian Gripens in one shot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)