The US Coast Guard (USCG) this week accepted its first HC-27J Spartan medium range surveillance aircraft in full USCG colours. The Asset Project Office in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, accepted the aircraft on 30 March.
The C-27J is one of 14 aircraft formerly in service with the US Air Force. Budget cuts forced the aircraft to be retired after only a few years of service, but the USCG was quick to snatch them up. The US Special Operations Command also took seven Spartans.
The repaint was completed by Leading Edge Aviation Services in Fort Worth, Texas. This particular Spartan will be transferred to Air Station Sacramento, California, this summer to continue the station’s transition from the HC-130H to the C-27J.
Five Spartan aircraft have been in operation in Elizabeth City since completing the regeneration process; the Coast Guard is conducting test flights on a sixth aircraft at AMARG, where the process to bring the Spartans out of long-term preservation is completed.
They will not end their flying days in glory, but they are still aircraft of some sort: the Boeing/Lockheed Martin QF-16. The multi-role fighter turned into full-scale aerial target is increasing in numbers, now that Boeing got a US Air Force order for another 30 QF-16s.
While Lockheed Martin still has high hopes for the newest V-version of the legendary Fighting Falcon once designed, developed and initially produced by General Dynamics in the 1970s, the older kids on the block are about to be shot out of the sky. Literately, as the whole purpose of a full-scale aerial target is to train modern fighter jocks in other aircraft in aerial combat.
QF-16 will get killed
Piloted remotely by a guy or girl with hands on the sticks on the ground, the QF-16 will get killed in mid-air by the cannon or missiles fired from other aircraft that hunt it down. QF-16s can still be operated like normal jets, with a real pilot in the cockpit, for training or test sorties.
American tax payers will spend more than 35 million on the fourth batch (Lot 4) of 30 QF-16s. Work will be done in St. Louis, Missouri, and the last of the aircraft now ordered will enter service of its probably short mission life in April 2018.
At Tyndell AFB
In March 2015 the US Air Force started to build up its fleet of tens of QF-16s with the first 13 aircraft (Lot 1), with the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall AFB, Florida. As you read on Airheadsfly.com the QF-16s are replacing the Vietnam War era QF-4 in that role. The first flight of the QF-16 was in September 2013, and we show you the cool video footage.
Despite the fact that many, including top military experts and members of the US Congress, have giant doubts about the ground support fight-ability of the US Air Force without the Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II, the military top brass seems eager to push forward with its retirement.
The first two A-10 squadrons will be decommissioned in 2018, followed by another two in 2019, sources within the US Air Force have confirmed. This means the loss of 49 aircraft a year. Speeding up thereafter 2020 will see the disbandment of three squadrons (64 A-10s) and 2021 four squadrons (96 Thunderbolts).
Putting money aside for the new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II is the main reason why the US Air Force top generals push on with their decision, amid fears especially among US Army personnel as well as those concerned for their health and their unit’s survive chances. The F-35 will never be a close-air support (CAS) asset up to the task, they feel.
Even some of the USAF high-ranking officers have expressed their concern, hoping that US Congress will give the armed service more money to keep the A-10s flying, as well as additional cash to keep enough manpower in place to service and pilot them.
Jousting, F-35 vs A-10
There is, however, a slight glimmer of hope. The US Department of Defence has announced a CAS “jousting” for the F-35 versus the A-10 in 2018. Rather late, but probably due to the fact that the Pentagon needs more time to prep the far from ready-developed new stealthy multi-role fighter. Advocators for the A-10 – including former high-ranking Air Force officers – are now strongly suggesting the Air Force to not “boneyard” any A-10 until the CAS tests of the F-35 are done.
The US Navy has become the first American armed force to order a very special Gulfstream air asset: the G550 Green heavily modified for Airborne Early Warning & Control duty.
With a price tag of almost 92 million dollar the people at the Gulfstream plant in Savannah, Georgia (USA), must be very excited that finally their own country recognized the quality of their platform, made in cooperation with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Conformal Airborne Early Warning
Planned for starting operations in January 2019, the US Navy G-550 Green AEW&C will join a small international fleet, although it has not been disclosed yet if the machines will be similar in looks as the pair of G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) the Israeli Air Force is flying. Other users are the Italian Air Force (2 G550 CAEW) and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (4 G550 CAEW).
Gulfstream to US armed forces
The Gulfstream as such is not new to the US armed forces, but until now was mainly enrolled in VIP transport duties as C-37B and the current numbers are small: one with the US Air Force, three with the US Navy and one with the US Army.
The US Air Force is getting more and more unfit to fulfill its core duty: waging war in case the country’s leadership asks it to do. The main problem is the substantial shortage of combat ready pilots, and the issue will get worse the coming years.
According to press agency Reuters, quoting Air Force officials, no less then 500 fighter pilots are “missing”. For 2022 that number is expected to land at more than 800. Main reason is the reduction of active duty fighter squadrons and subsequently having less Reserve and maybe even Guard pilots available.
More than 20 years ago the US Air Force had 100 fighter squadrons, which is now down to 54. The US Air Force still outclasses its Russian counter part (about 40 squadrons are in the Russian Air Force), while the People’s Liberation Army of China puts an estimated 180 squadron a field, but made up of much smaller numbers with about 2,000 aircraft in total less than the US Air Force does.