Will the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II be the today’s Spitfire and topple incoming modern versions of the V-1 flying bomb of World War 2? If the US Navy and Lockheed Martin have their way: “yes”.
It is called the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) and meant as a huge extra asset to protect a Carrier Battle Group or Amphibious Battle Group against incoming cruise / anti-ship missiles that can been launched at long ranges by for example Russian-made and -owned Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bombers.
At the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, USA, Lockheed Martin is moving its NIFC-CA slowly to the next phase: a live-fire test planned for somewhere in the coming two years. The plan is that a US Navy or US Marines F-35B or F-35C uses a NIFC-CA sensor, and/or Link 16 transferred data of a ship’s Aegis radar plus the Grumman E-2D Hawkeye as airborne relay station to get a more complete threat image of the operations zone on beyond-visual range distances.
Possible incoming anti-ship missiles will then be destroyed using a ship-launched Raytheon SM-6 missile, while adaption of the Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) is likely considered as an airborne alternative to equip the F-35 with a cruise missile kill capability.
During World War II Royal Air Force pilots used the strong wings of their Supermarine Spitfire planes to topple and actively crash incoming Nazi-German V-1s, while the flying bombs were en route to their targets. Although the F-35 will not use the same technique the Lockheed Martin NIFC-CA project somewhat might turn the Lightning II in today’s state-of-the-art Spitfire.
The Ukraine Ministry of Defence has started planning the purchase of Western-made aircraft. Considering the new active fighting role that the Ukraine military was forced to take up in 2014, sources within the department say there is an urgent need for modern combat aircraft.
At the earliest by 2020 the Ukrainian Air Force should receive an affordable new multi-role fighter and a modern UCAV – or armed drone. In about a decade the armed forces of Ukraine should field a new air fleet.
In the current doubtful economic situation of the Ukrainian state, a balance of affordability and capability will be most logic. Although the Kiev is holding its options open, the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon are already deemed not to be included in the final selection. More likely is that Ukraine will either choose the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon or strike a leasing deal with Swedish SAAB for the Gripen C/D or new E/F. Both the F-16 and the Gripen are known for their relatively low costs per flight hour and – especially the Gripen – for their easy maintenance.
After Russia pushed Ukraine out of the Crimean peninsula and provided military support and combat troops to the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian air forces faced a sudden change in daily missions they were not prepared for.
“In the 23 years of Ukrainian independence the only experience we had was transport, medevac and reconnaissance. We didn’t have the money nor the training to perform ground attack and other combat missions,” Lieutenant General Sergei Drozdov Deputy Commander of the Air Force Armed Forces of Ukraine said during the recent IQPC Fighter Conference in London. Himself a trained fighter pilot with more than 2,000 flight hours on the Aero L-39, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (“Fishbed”), the MiG-29 (“Fulcrum”) and the Sukhoi Su-27 (“Flanker”) he said: “Our combat aircraft were built mostly in the 1980s and early 1990s. They are inferior to modern aircraft and their in bad physical condition.”
With no money yet for a new modern fighter jet, for now the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence hopes for the best doing indigenous upgrades for another 10 to 15 years on the Russian made fighter jets and ground attack aircraft, plus Czech made L-39 trainers that can be used for light attack. Mothballed jets are brought back into service.
Once more money is in place the future of Ukrainian military airlift is likely to build on the new developed Antonov AN-70 tactical transport aircraft, an aircraft that could even become a competitor for the Western European Airbus A400M, and on the smaller Antonov AN-140.
The Ukrainian Air Force training and light attack fleet could be more exotic in the near future. Although planes like the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 is considered a worthy successor of or supplement to the L-39, a deal with China cannot be ruled out. Involvement and possibilities of Ukrainian aviation industries to participate in the purchase of new hardware is always a key issue in the purchase policy. As late as November Ukrainian officials were discussing the Hongdu (HAIG) L-15 Falcon, at the 2014 Airshow at Zhuhai near Macau in Southern China. Ukraine already produces the Ivchenko AI-222 turbofans for these aircraft.
While the Ukrainian military for now has to soldier on with its old and sometimes renewed hardware, a slow move to more Western aircraft is certainly looming at the horizon. In Kiev the defence ministry is already plotting the path to that future.
For the first time in 25 years the Russian Air Force held a large-scale joint exercise in the beginning of July between the Russian Air Defence Forces and the combat aircraft of the Western Military District in the skies of and near St. Petersburg, relatively close to borders with Finland and the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
About two dozen Sukhoi Su-34s and Su-27s plus Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 SMTs and MiG-31s took up a simulated air war against Russia’s own radar systems, self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery and S-300 surface-to-air missile units. The exercise included surprise bombing attacks from three directions on strategic targets in the St. Petersburg area. Purpose of the “city bombing” training was to help train aircrews to penetrate heavily defended areas to hit vital enemy locations on the ground.
Of course, no real bombs were dropped. All “hits” were recorded electronically to measure the success of the bombing crews and the air defence opposing them.
Parallel to exercise in the St. Petersburg area, the Russian Northern fleet put up air-to-surface and anti-submarine warfare exercises. Tupolev Tu-142 bombers and Ilyushin IL-38 patrol aircraft worked out bombing procedures, while Kamov Ka-27 helicopters dropped torpedoes. The main mission was to train the flight crews in the search and identification of enemy submarines.
Secondary air ice reconnaissance missions were flown over the Arctic Sea – especially the so-called Northern Sea Route which is a shipping short-cut from Western Europe to Asia when ice conditions allow it.
Pilot training on the new Tupolev Tu-204CM (aka Tu-204SM) has started, reported the Russian industry newspaper Voyenno-promyshlennyy kur’yer on 7 March 2014.
Although no official customer has been disclosed by the Tupolev design bureau or the Aviastar-SP manufacturing plant, there are officially only three prototypes involved in the program.
The Tu-204CM is a much modernized version of the Tu-204-100E, using the new PS-90A2 engines with enhanced service life and reliability compared to their predecessors. The flight crew is treated with upgraded and new systems as well.
As AIRheads↑Fly reported in August the Tu-204CM is a much modernized version of the Tu-204-100E, using the new PS-90A2 engines with enhanced service life and reliability compared to their predecessors. The flight crew is treated with upgraded and new systems as well.
Internationally overshadowed by the Russian military actions on the Crimean peninsula (Krim), the Russian Western and Central Districts ran very large scale readiness exercises from 26 February till 3 March 2014. We at AIRheads↑Fly gathered some of the highlights of the air ops.
According to official statements 90 aircraft, over 120 helicopters, 880 tanks, 1,200 armoured and soft vehicles plus artillery, up to 80 ships and 150,000 troops were involved.
Western District Helicopters
The readiness exercises pre-started on 23 or 24 February in sunny conditions, with 10 to 20 Mil Mi-24 Hinds and Mi-8 Hips of the Western Military District started working on group attack strategies in mountainous areas. Furthermore the Hips flew transport and recon missions in pairs during day and night, flying from unprepared landing zones.
Central District Helicopters
Meanwhile 10 to 20 Central Military District Mi-8s also started in their operational area on 23, 24 or 25 February by fortifying a 5,000 square metres (15,000 square feet) zone with 200 anti-tank mines. According to a Russian Defence Ministry news release that took no more than 10 minuts with the choppers flying at 45 to 60 feet above the ground at a speed of 11 knots (20 kmh). Similar mining tactics were earlier used by Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the war/occupation that lasted from December 1979 to February 1989.
Baltic Fleet Helicopters
At least a dozen Baltic Fleet Mi-24 and armed Mil Mi-8 helicopter from the 125th Independent Helicopter Squadron at Chkalovsk supported ground troops during the readiness exercise in the Kalingrad enclave at the Baltic sea.
Ground crews started the fueling of fighter jets – including Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers – and IL-78 tanker aircraft on 26 February. An unknown number of combat aircraft were dispersed to many airfields in the Western Military District. Some pilots flew into Arctic airfields on flights of over 1,500 km (930 miles). During those missions, lasting up to 2.5 hours, they flew in so-called combat formations executing radar evasion and simulated electronic enemy air defence suppression.
Lipetsk Air Base
These fighter packs included Sukhoi Su-27s from the 91st Training and Research Regiment (91 IIAP) flying from Lipetsk Air Base, which is sort of the Nellis AFB for the Russian Air Force. The unit is said to have 15 Flankers, plus more than twenty MiG-29s.
Combat aircraft Western District
A total of 30 to 60 bombers and fighters of the Western Military District are reported to have been participating in the Readiness Exercise 2014. Taken from north to south the combat aircraft came from bases in regions that included Murmansk Oblast (bordered to Norway and Finland), Karelia (bordered to Finland), Tver (far east from the Baltic republics and Belarus), Kursk (east of Ukraine) and Voronezh (bordered to Ukraine).
The Western Military District pilots flew a total of 700 hours during the span of the Readiness Exercise 2014. MiG-31s and MiG-31BMs supported the bombers. Sukhoi Su-27P and MiG-29SMT flew interception and close air combat missions.
Sukhoi Su-34s (Fullback) and Su-24Ms (Fencer-D) were tasked with operational relocation to other airports and the bombing of ground targets alone, in pairs or connected via a datalink connection. Sukhoi Su-24MRs (Fencer-E) provided tactical reconnaissance and bombing assessment overflights.
At least one four-engined turboprop Antonov AN-12 (NATO-reporting name Cub) with registration RA-11344 was tasked with transport duties. The Tupolev Tu-134 of the air commander of the Western Military District was used on 28 February for a simulated intercept and forced landing by Sukhoi Su-27s on route from Moscow to Besovets in Karelia region.
Tankers and interceptors
Five IL-78 (NATO-reporting name Midas) air tankers took of from Olenegorks Airbase in the Murmansk region on 28 February, to designated predestined zones over the Barents Sea to refuel six Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31s in mid-air at 4,000 metres (12,000 feet). The Foxhounds – as their NATO-reporting name goes – took off earlier from Monchegorsk Airbase. The MiG-31s trained on intercepting naval aircraft from the Northern Fleet base of Severomorsk.