UPDATED 16 February | The Royal Saudi Air Force is about to send combat jets to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey, to start bombing runs against the so-called Islamic State forces (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) in Syria.
Update | News surrounding the deployment is vague at best. Most recent info is that the Saudi jets will deploy to Turkey ‘by the end of February’, sources in Riyadh say.
Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Cavusoglu confirmed the Kingdom’s plans Saturday 13 February 2015. Saudi quarter makers already inspected Incirlik and see it fit for operations, Cavusoglu said to Turkish journalists.
With the substantial Russian combat air expeditionary wing operating inside Syria, the RSAF probably will not only deploy air-to-ground attack dedicated F-15S/SA Strike Eagles, Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado IDSs – or a mixture of those – but very likely add a dedicated counter-air/air escort element to the ops. That task could either be done by the Typhoons or Saudi F-15C and D Eagle air-supiority fighters.
According to sources in Ankara and in Riyadh the Saudis are even considering a land operation, with troops being flown into Incirlik to cross into Syria from Turkish territory. If that plan will be executed, it may mean involvement of Saudi AH-64 Apache attack helicopters operating from Incirlik as well, but so far that plan is just a plan.
The Saudis are calling an end to the leadership of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, who in turn is more or less supported by Moscow – at least for the time being.
Civil and military aviation better don’t mix. Why? Let me take you to RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, 3 Fighter Squadron. The squadron has increased its level of training to better prepare its junior pilots before they embark on the year-long Qualified Weapons Instructors’ Course (QWIC) We take turns at being the bad guys during training sorties in the training areas over the North Sea.
Today is our turn to be blue air so we invite our sister squadron’s pilots as red air. I’m responsible for the training and will be flying as the number 2. I’ve come up with a scenario that I want red air to use. I have told their flight leader that I want them to simulate the Su-27 Flanker and that they should simulate having airfields to the north of the airspace. Our “target” is an oil rig in the sea near the red airfields.
Almost three hours of planning, briefing and starting aeroplanes later, the blue air flight leader has led us to the tanker flying just north of the airways from Germany. Our radars automatically pick up the airline traffic to the south of us as we approach the tanker. Tanking is a tricky business, but we train as often as we can to make sure we can plug in even at night in cloud. We need protected airspace to allow us to practise this without worrying about other air traffic. The tanker captain is the formation leader and he is doing what he can to stay in smooth air and out of clouds.
After the tanking is done, we talk to GCI who are the guardians of the airspace we use. They monitor the safety of the aircraft using the area and provide a verbal “picture” of where the bad guys are to help us point our radars at them for higher fidelity information which we can use to shoot missiles. The faster and higher a fighter is before firing his missile, the further the missile will go.
Sometimes it isn’t just about maximum range: it is also about energy. If I shoot a missile at closer than maximum range, it has more energy when it finds the target. The missile can use that energy to “fly” after the target. So I can take a very long range shot which the enemy can defeat with a small manoeuvre, or I can take a very short range shot which the enemy can not escape from. Often we take a mixture of both types of shot depending on our best guess of what we think the enemy are going to do. The ranges of these shots are obviously one of the most highly classified parts of a fighter pilot’s job.
With Eurofighter Typhoon, the incredible speed and altitude performance of the jet means that it can shoot missiles at much greater ranges than we have been used to. That means we need to have the airspace distance to take those long shots and altitude to get to the parameters to take the shots.
Turnin’ and burnin’
We need the areas to be over the sea because most of the fight will be flown at supersonic speeds, often pointing straight down at the ground and in full reheat. The turnin’ and burnin’ and the associated changes in direction and altitude are so fast that ground stations can not keep up with it. We also use chaff to defeat opposition locks and radio jamming to make it trickier to “kill” targets. Finally we need to be able to fly over simulated ground targets and run through the process of finding a target and dropping a bomb on it. This sometimes means flying around a target in circles.
Flying in circles is not for airliners. They prefer straight lines. However , airliners flying in a straight line tends to only happen over the vast expanses of ocean around the World. Not so over the North Sea and over lots more areas everywhere. Why? For all of the above reasons. We better don’t mix.
The Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR.4 fleet will soon not be able to make it on its own. UK sources now confirm the British military leadership has now requested the German and Italian Air Forces to stand by for delivering spare parts to keep the fighter-bombers of 12 Squadron flying.
The Luftwaffe, Aeronautica Militare and the RAF have long-standing deal to borrow from another when necessary, going back to the Cold War days of NATO when standardisation of NATO’s air combat fleet was done in order to increase the survivability in case of war with Russia. Several nations flew the Tornado, other the F-16, with the exchange of spare parts between the various air forces as a solution to meet operational demands.
The unit has currently eight aircraft assigned to air strikes against the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, but with the Tornado fleet planned to retire more than a year ago the RAF reportedly has only a limited amount of spare parts left. London recently decided to keep the Tornadoes until at least 2017 – which may have to be extended until 2020 – in order to provide the nation with a strike force that no aircraft can yet provide.
Designed as an air-defence fighter the Eurofighter Typhoon is destined to pick up the role of air-to-ground attack asset, as well as the future Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. But the Typhoon isn’t ready for that role yet, and the first British stealthy F-35 unit will have initial operational capability in 2021 or even later.
Although the exchange of spare parts has happened before between NATO and other nations, the RAF leadership is said to be somewhat troubled by the operational goals set by the government in London, the increasing military threat of Russia and the scale back of its assets on financial grounds.
The Royal Air Force is quietly planning to keep its aging Tornado fighter jets even longer than already envisaged. By 2019 the RAF is set to take its last of 87 operational Panavia variable sweep-wing aircraft out of service, as well as the first version (read: less-capable) of 53 Eurofighter Typhoons. Counting in all other factors the United Kingdom will end up very short-handed with at times only 60 combat jets ready.
With an increasing military threat from Russia as well as other international commitments like fighting the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria (Operation Inherent Resolve), the United Kingdom is in need for a capable combat force more than a decade ago.
Yet the country’s military leadership – as well as military analists – worry how the RAF is able to defend the country and perform its international duties with in theory roughly more than 112 fighter jets by 2020. Since it takes a decade to build up a military force, various RAF planners are trying to find a way to cope with the future, because even that number of 112 does not reflect the coming real-life situation.
In less than five years from now the United Kingdom will have the least number of fighter jets to fly into combat ever, while the need of them has not been as high as since the 1982 Falklands War. With its usual detachment of four Typhoons at RAF Mount Pleasant there and likely a number of aircraft permanently based in the US for pilot training, the RAF will by 2020 in theory have about 100 aircraft “free to use” left. Take out 30 to 50 percent due to maintenance and lack of spare parts and Britain’s hope in dark days is down to about 50 to 60 Eurofighter Typhoons of Trance 2 and 3, which hopefully by then are upgraded enough to fulfill all that is asked from them.
Those tasks – for a fighter jet designed to patrol the skies and engage enemy aircraft, not ground targets – will include giving air defence to the nation, supporting British ground forces at home and abroad, give future British fighter jocks the necessary training, providing air strike capability to combat ISIS, support fighterless fellow NATO nations as Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with deterrence power and fly air coverage for the Royal Navy ships and vessels.
That maritime coverage will include the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, unless Britain can get the US Marine Corps to help them out with some fighter coverage. The RAF/Royal Navy’s own 14 Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II stealthy combat jets to operate from the HMS Queen Elizabeth are not expected to have any limited operational capability until 2021. Airheadsfly.com already reported on this issue in November last year.
Also last year the UK government decided to keep the RAF’s No. 2 Tornado squadron longer on strength, since the country simply lacked the capabilities to bomb ISIS. London might have to do that for more squadrons in the future if it wants to stay feeling safe.
UPDATED 21APRIL 2015 | The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) led air strikes on Houthi rebel positions in neighbouring Yemen has got a broad military support from many other Arab nations. As Airheadsfly.com got new data the RSAF F-15S (Strike) Eagles and EF2000 Typhoons didn’t fly into combat alone at all.
If our sources are correct the United Arab Emirates Air Force sent 30 of its fighter jets, mainly Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcons and possibly a number of Dassault Mirage 2000s. The Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) and Kuwait Air Force both said to have contributed about 15 combat jets each. If true, the relatively large RBAF contribution is remarkable, since the country has only about 15 to 17 operational F-16Cs and eight remaining and aging Northrop F-5Es.
The Kuwait Air Force used almost half of its 35 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet. The Qatar Emiri Air Force scrambled up to ten of its Mirage 2000s, while the Royal Jordanian Air Force flew six of its Lockheed Martin F-16s into combat in the Yemen.
Air Assets Operation Restoring Hope (known as Decisive Storm until the end of April 2015)
Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF):
100 aircraft, including Boeing F-15C Eagle air-superiority fighters, Boeing F-15S (Strike) Eagles, Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon multi-role fighters, Panavia Tornado interdictor / strike aircraft, Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters (unconfirmed), Aérospatiale (Airbus Helicopter) AS532M Cougar CSAR helicopters
United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF):
30 fighter jets of Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000 type
Kuwait Air Force (KAF):
15 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornet multirole fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF):
15 aircraft of the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon and Northrop F-5 type
Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF):
10 Mirage 2000-5 fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
Royal Jordanian Air Force (RDAF):
6 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16A/B Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
Royal Moroccan Air Force:
6 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
Sudanese Air Force:
3 to 6 Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft. Operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia. Moreover the Sudanese Air Force has likely deployed some of its four C-130 Hercules and possible its two Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft in support
Egyptian Air Force:
US Air Force (USAF):
Boeing KC-135 Stratofortress upon Saudi request. First refuelling mission flown on 8 April 2015.
The air strikes are focusing on Houthi rebel positions, air defence sites, air bases and Sanaa international airport, command-and-control locations and army camps in Sanaa, Saada and Taiz. The first strikes were launched on 25 or 26 March 2015, with ground forces engaged as well in what has been dubbed Operation Decisive Storm. Officially it takes place under the flag of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the members.
Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube
Saudi Arabia has said to have committed a 100 aircraft, as well as 150,000 ground forces. The six F-16C/D Fighting Falcons that the Royal Moroccan Air Force already had in the United Arab Emirates to fight ISIS in Iraq have also been retasked with supporting the Saudi-led operations in Yemen. Sudan committed three combat aircraft, Sukhoi Su-24s (“Fencer”) sources say. Egypt pledged its support as well, but there is no information yet on how many and which aircraft it will sent.
The conflict in Yemen is between loyalist forces that support fled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi / Zaidi Shia rebels. Main focus is the western part of the country. There the loyalist forces have the most support in the Sunnis south – with Aden as the principal city. Whoever control Aden, controls the sea lanes to/from the Red Sea – a main supply route for oil and other goods. The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia is said to be pushing towards Aden with a ground force of about 5,000 troops.
The Houthi forces have a strong control of the northern part of the west, mainly north of the capital of Sanaa. They easily took control of the capital last September and are known to be an effective fighting force, meaning the Arab coalition will very likely deploy combat aircraft and maybe helicopters in the close air-support role. In fact, the Saudis deployed armed helicopters (likely Apaches, but this is unconfirmed) on the border when its ground forces clased with Houthi forces.
Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube
During a large part of the 20th century there were two Yemens. North Yemen became a state in 1918, while South Yemen freed itself from colonizer Britain. The two united on 22 May 1990, but unrest has plagued the country since 1993. In the current conflict Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia support the loyalist forces – including military ground and air ops since this week. Iran is opposing the use of weapons by its Arab neighbours, but has so far stayed out of the conflict militarily.
Houthi rebel combat planes
Officially at least, since some sources indicate that Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force pilots are flying combat planes of Yemeni Air Force units who sided or were overrun by Houthi rebels. One or more Iranian ships have also docket in Hudaidah with military equipment and ammunition on board earlier this March.
But with the Royal Saudi Air Force controlling Yemeni air space since Thursday 26 March, it is unlikely that Houthi planes with Yemeni or Iranian pilots will stand much of a change. In fact, according to several sources on 30 March 2015 the Saudi-led air strikes have destroyed at least 11 fighter jets of the Houthi rebels. The rebels got quite a prize in the third week of March, capturing Yemeni Air Force Al Anad Airbase with apparently up to 21 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets. Some sources say that the Houthis never had more than 16 combat aircraft in total, so the exact details are somewhat sketchy.