Royal Canadian Air Force F-18 Hornets end their contribution to the fight against Daesh forces in Iraq and Syria in two weeks, the Canadian government announced on Monday 8 February. The Canadian mission went by the name of Operation Impact and until 1 February totalled 237 air strikes.
Canada’s liberal prime-minister Justin Trudeau was sworn into office last November and had promised voters to stop Canadian bombing. Trudeau now lives up to that promise, much to the dismay of the US and coalition partners.
The aircraft from Canada started their contribution on 2 November 2014, flying only missions over Iraq. In April 2015, the Canadian government also authorized missions over Syria. Six F-18 Hornets and CC-150 Polaris tanker were involved. The aircraft operated from Kuwait all the time.
After 21 years and 279 aircraft procuded, the curtain falls for Boeing C-17 Globemaster III production in Long Beach, California. The final C-17 left the production facility on Sunday 29 November on it’s way to another Boeing facility in Texas in preparation for delivery to the Qatar Emiri Air Force next year.
Qatar is one of nine operators of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, the military transport aircraft that first flew on 15 September 1991 from Long Beach. The US Air Force is the largest operator by far, taking 223 aircraft. The last USAF-delivery took place in 2013.
Over the last decade, India quickly became the second largest operator, counting 10 Globemaster. Australia and the UK both operate eight aircraft. Other operators are Canada, NATO, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Along with the UAE, Qatar was one of the operators to snatch up some of the last Globemasters remaining for sale. Ahead of closing down production, Boeing decided to produce a dozen or so ‘white-tail’ C-17s; aircraft with no formal customer. Other countries to take some of these aircraft were India, Australia and Canada.
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.
The US Department of Defense is seeking Congressional approval to buy another 400 (!) Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealthy multi-role fighters at once. Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said this on Friday 29 May during a press conference. Aim is to buy for both the US armed forces and export partners and get a large discount in the process.
Currently orders for the future backbone of many air forces are placed in batches of tens up to 150 a year, but the Pentagon thinks it could get a larger reduction from Lockheed Martin if it orders 400 jets at once, to be produced over the course of three fiscal years: 2018 to 2021. In between the lines: such a block buy would also ensure a fairly quick modernization of many of NATO’s and other allies air forces with a capable 5th generation fighter jet to keep up the pace with Russia and China. Cutting down on the current unit base cost of 98 to 116 million per aircraft will certainly help.
Three base versions
Lockheed Martin is producing the Lightning II in three base version. The F-35A is the conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant originally designed for the US Air Force, with more than 1,750 planned.
The F-35B is the short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) version for the US Marine Corps, which is planning 420 aircraft including some of the C-variant developped for the US Navy. This F-35C is adapted for carrier-based (CV) operations but lacks the vertical landing and hover option of the USMC jets (which can land on carriers as well of course). That should make the C both cheaper and easier to fly, and easier to maintain. The US Navy plans for 260 F-35Cs.
Britain’s Royal Air Force/Royal Navy are also buying the most advanced version. The UK’s F-35Bs are to operate from the RN’s two new large aircraft carriers: HMS Queen Elizabeth to be commissioned in 2016 (initially without the F-35s, because they are not ready yet) and the HMS Prince of Wales planned for 2020. A total of 48 F-35Bs are ordered, of which 4 are in testing phase, with plans for another 32 or more.
Both the Italian Air Force and Navy are to operate the F-35, with 15 B-versions planned for the Marina Militare – to fly from the aircraft carrier C 550 Cavour – and 60 F-35As for the Aeronautica Militare (with 6 ordered so far). Italy is much involved in the F-35 program, with the Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi being a strategic part of the production. On 26 May the first F-35A wing-set produced by the Italian manufacturer at its plant in Camiri entered the F-35 production line in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. , marking a milestone for the Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)-Alenia Aermacchi collaboration on the program. Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi has been contracted for 835 full wing assemblies. Italy is even producing entire aircraft.
All other export orders are for the “simplest” F-35A variant: to the Turkish Air Force (100 planned); the Royal Australian Air Force (72 ordered of which 2 in testing; with the Australians making hundreds of tails); the Royal Norwegian Air Force (52 planned of which 16 ordered); the Japan Air-Self Defense Force (42 planned of which 5 ordered); the Republic of Korea Air Force (40 ordered) and the Royal Netherlands Air Force (37 planned of which 8 ordered with 2 in testing).
The Israeli Air Force plans for 75 F-35Is, which are F-35As with Israeli modifications such as in the electronics on board. Thirty-three F-35Is are ordered, with the first 2 to be delivered in 2017. The Royal Canadian Air Force is opting for the CF-35, which will be an A-variant with a drag parachute (like the Norwegian jets; handy on short icy runways) and possible a refuelling probe like on the F-35Bs and Cs. Denmark and Belgium are likely to choose for the F-35A as well.
Embedding at sea
Just this week the USS Wasp has seen the debut of the first semi combat-ready F-35 unit-style training at sea ever, after the US Air Force put 10 of its jets through a deployment in April. Six F-35Bs flew more than a hundred sorties, clocking 85.5 flight hours during Operational Testing 1 (OT-1) to see how the embedding at sea is going. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel went along as well, to use the experience to incorporate on their vessels once the F-35s are delivered. Meanwhile Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at MCAS Yuma in Arizona is working to reach initial operational capability in Mid-2015, becoming the world’s first F-35 combat unit.
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-188 Hornets have been active over Europe since April last year but ended their European operations this week. The last Hornets that were part of the Canadian Air Task Force (ATF) returned home, departing Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
In April 2014, NATO began to implement a series of military measures to reinforce NATO’s collective defence in response to Russian aggression towards Ukraine. The RCAF stood up ATF Romania in May 2014 in Câmpia Turzii, Romania, including six CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft and 200 personnel. The ATF conducted interoperability training with NATO allies, including the Romanian Air Force, in the areas of air defence, air superiority, aerospace testing and evaluation, and tactical support.
In September 2014, the ATF relocated to the Baltics to fulfill the Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission in Šiauliai, Lithuania, using four Hornets. The Canadian activity over the Baltics ended on 31 December.
In January, the remaining Hornets and personnel relocated to Spangdahlem Air Base in the German Eiffel region, where regular training missions were flown. The base also served as a stop-over point for Canadian assets being used in operations over Syria.