NATO maritime patrol aircraft of France and Canada have come to the rescue of the Royal Air Force and are hunting a Russian sub off the coast of Scotland, according to some British sources on Monday 23 November 2015.
The Russian submarine was apparently detected a number of days ago just north of the United Kingdom. With the RAF having no anti-submarine capacity of its own, the UK Ministry of Defence called Paris and Ottawa. Two French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2 and a Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed CP-140 Polaris are now forming the make-shift airborne maritime patrol fleet, operating out of RAF Lossiemouth.
London officially acknowledges the presence of “foreign aircraft” at Lossiemouth, but does not comment in length on their operations. Royal Navy sources however have confirmed the involvement of at least one frigate and a hunter-killer submarine in offshore operations in the area without releasing details.
Boeing P-8 Poseidon
If the NATO aircraft are indeed actively involved in “the hunt for Red November”, it marks the third time in 12 months this happens. Relieve is on the way, the Ministry of Defence just announced the purchase of nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft today. But since it will take a few years for the production to be done, NATO will likely have to step in again to serve Her Majesty’s once tough air weapon.
In a long awaited announcement, UK prime minister David Cameron on Monday 23 November stated the UK is buying nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft as part of a strategic defense review. The decision ends a long period of uncertainty about which aircraft should follow in the footsteps of the famed but retired Nimrod. Futhermore, the UK is creating two more Typhoon squadrons.
A statement also says the UK will extend the life of multirole Typhoon fighter aircraft for 10 extra years through to 2040, meaning the Royal Air Force will be able to create 2 additional squadrons. This gives the British a total of frontline 7 squadrons, consisting of around 12 aircraft per squadron. Downing Street also announced an investment in Typhoon’s ground attack capability, plus the addition of the latest Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
According to sources, London is also said to soon purchase up to 24 F-35B Lightnings to equip its two future aircraft carriers. So far, the British have ordered only ten aircraft, with three already delivered. In total, the UK is planning to get 138 F-35Bs over the next two decades, fulfilling an commitment for the 5th generation and stealthy aircraft made earlier.
Also on the fast jet front, the Panavia Tornado is to retire in 2019, when the final two squadrons hand in their aircraft. Furthermore, 14 out of 24 C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft will remain in service between 2022 and 2030 to serve alongside new Airbus A400M airlifters.
NATO on Wednesday 29 October 2014 sounded the alarm over Russian aircraft heading out in the skies over Europe far more often recently. So far in 2014, NATO fighter aircraft conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, which is about three times more than were conducted in 2013. A round up of known intercepts is below.
Only last week, a Russian Il-20 spy plane was caught in international airspace after it took off in Kaliningrad and headed over the Baltic Sea towards Denmark. NATO F-16s soon caught up with it. On 21 September Danish F-16s along with fighter aircraft from Finland and Sweden (both non-members of NATO but participants in the Partnership for Peace program) chased two Tu-22M Backfires and two Su-27 Flankers, while on the same day German Typhoons played cat and mouse with two Flankers near the Baltics.
Scotland Royal Air Force Typhoons took off from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland on 19 September, to intercept two Tu-95 Russian Bear H bombers in international airspace. Several days earlier, on Wednesday 17 September, Sweden picked up two Su-24 Fencers, which later were also shadowed by NATO aircraft.
On Thursday 28 August a Russian An-72 flew close to Helsinki, forcing the Finnish Air Force to send up F/A-18 Hornets. On 21 August, Danish, Dutch and UK fighters intercepted two Tu-95 Bears over the North Sea. The same thing happened in April.
In June, Royal Air Force Typhoons based in Lithuania met with four Russian Su-27s, two Tu22 Backfire bomber, one Beriev A50 Mainstay early-warning aircraft and an An-26 Curl transport aircraft.
NATO Air Policing
As a reply to Russian interference in Ukraine, NATO fortified the Baltic Air Policing mission in the Baltic states and Poland earlier this year. Currently, Canadian F/A-18 Hornets, Portuguese F-16s, German Eurofighter Typhoons and Dutch F-16s are involved in this mission, flying from Ämari airbase in Estonia, Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania and Malbork in Poland. Meanwhile, Czech Air Force Saab Gripens are watching the skies over Iceland.
Astonishing news this week. Roughly a month after the global stand-down order of the Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma was lifted, a similar helicopter – this time an older and smaller AS332 – crashed into the North Sea. The ditch, killing four of the 18 people on board, reminds many of two offshore incidents in 2012 which caused the flight prohibition to the newer and larger EC225 Super Puma.
August 23, 2013. The pilot on board a CHC Scotia AS332L2 Super Puma releases a distress signal about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) south of the southern tip of the Shetland islands. CHC is one of the world’s largest non-military helicopter operators, with more than 240 aircraft in about 30 countries. With its headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, the company’s choppers are a common sight in the North Sea area where they mainly transport personnel to and from oil and gas platforms.
Back to the the Shetlands on the unfortunate Friday where the CHC signal had been picked up at Sumburg airport. The air traffic controller on duty subsequently looses all contact with the chopper at 18:20 local time, when the Super Puma is about two miles west of the field. The Super Puma was on its way to Sumburgh, having taken off Aberdeen Dice airport earlier that day to visit two oil rigs on the way.
At 18:30 the Shetland Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre was advised by the Air Rescue Coordination Centre that they had lost contact with a Super Puma helicopter with 18 people on board traveling from the Borgsten Dolphin ridge to Sumburgh. Co-ordinators of the Shetland Coastguard immediately request assistance of air and sea assets.
A 130 miles (210 km) away, personnel at Royal Air Force air station Lossiemouth in Northern Scotland, directs the crew of a 202 Squadron D Flight bright yellow Westland Sea King helicopter to the accident area. Subsequently the privately owned search-and-rescue service Bond sends two of its choppers and almost immediately cancels its open day planned for August 24th. At the ports of Aith and Lerwick all-weather lifeboats head out to sea, about 40 respectively 20 miles (65 resp 32 km) from the last reported location of the ditched Super Puma. The RAF Sea King picks up medical specialists from the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and ferries them to Lerwick at the Shetlands.
The day ends with 14 people injured, one death and three still missing at sea. Immediately the discussion of the safety of the Super Puma picks up in several western media, including the Norwegian quality newspaper Aftenposten.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had just validated safety measures to the Super Pumas gear shaft box and main gear box emergency lubrication system on July 10th which were behind the crashes of two EC225 helicopters in the North Sea in 2012. On July 19th, the EC225s return to full flight status worldwide. However, most media missed an essential part of the information: a Super Puma is not always the same Super Puma. This was quickly reflected by CHC.
“We believe that engineering and operating differences associated with AS332L/L1 and EC225 aircraft warrant continuing flights with those aircraft”, a company spokesperson wrotes in a press release. “But in order to give us an opportunity to take stock of any implications associated with Friday’s accident, we will not fly AS332Ls/L1s/L2s anywhere in the world on Sunday, August 25, except for life-or-death search-and-rescue missions.”
Looking at the recent stand-down of the newer EC225 type and last week’s AS332 crash near the Shetlands it is easy to ask What is wrong with the Super Puma? But with both the stand-down and the crash happening in the North Sea the focus could very well be What is wrong with the Super Puma in North Sea offshore operations.
The answer might be nothing more than a temporarily broken image and tough luck just after the break. The EC225s worldwide alone accumulated 300,000 flight hours (source: Eurocopter). With so many Super Pumas of all types flying worldwide in both civilian and military roles sooner or later an accident is statistically about the happen.
Seventeen squadrons, 50 aircraft from four air bases and a great location to fly. The best of the best of the Royal Air Force flocked to RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, in July for the Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor (CQWI) exercise.
,,The CQWI exercise is looking to pass 27 students over 2 weeks to gain their qualification as a weapon’s instructor. For most of the individuals involved in CQWI it is their final exercise in a gruelling 12 month training programme. The exercise is held for pilots who are considered the brightest and best, allowing them to gain tactical appreciation of the aircraft and the significance of their role on operations”, writes a RAF press spokesperson.
The exercise brings extra life to the homebase of the Panavia Tornado GR4s of 12(B), 15(R) and 617 Squadron. Eurofighter Typhoons, British Aerospace Hawk T1As, Lockheed C-130Ks, Lockheed C-130J, a Sentinel R1 and Dassault DA20 Falcons were all involved. Some act as bogey, some provide intel and some merely focus on the training.
RAF Typhoons of 1(F) squadron will move permanently to Lossiemouth from September 2014.