Tag Archives: US Air Force

USA turns Norway into new stronghold, includes F-22

In the wake of Russia’s higher military activity ever since Moscow took the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Norway is slowly growing into a US stronghold in the defence of Scandinavia. A conclusion drawn by Airheadsfly.com based on recent political and military deals, that include the possible basing of up to four US Air Force F-22 Raptors on the threshold of Oslo.

It seems like reading pages of a Cold War book, but the reinforcement of Norway as a base of US military operations in Scandinavia is slowly progressing for real – on the ground and in the air. Key seems to keep Southern Norway at all times under NATO air, ground, sea and cyberspace control. The area we talk about is roughly 500 square kilometres (320 sq miles) and includes Norway’s primary air force base of Ørland, the nearby reserve air base of Vaernes/Trondheim, NATO’s main tanker and transport reserve base of Sola (Stavanger), the reserve air base of Rygge (Moss) near the capital of Oslo, plus the main civilian airports of Olso-Gardermoen, Sondefjord/Skien and Florø. At the same time, the US is projecting its wings at the Norwegian outpost of Andøya in the Polar Circle.

A bunch of RNoAF marking RNoAF F-16 readiness over Rygge in 2010 (Image © Forsvaret)
A bunch of RNoAF fighters marking RNoAF F-16 readiness over Rygge in 2010 (Image © Forsvaret)

Quite unexpected Washington has asked Norway to make space at the no longer air-active Rygge Airbase/Moss Airport for four of its combat aircraft, and the US is willing to pay for the necessary infrastructure and support. According to Pentagon documents the top military brass wishes to be able to place at least four Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor stealthy air superiority fighters on Rygge. “Yes, the basing of these aircraft is one possibility, but it can be other types of aircraft as well,” Norwegian Minister of Defence Frank Bakke-Jensen confirmed to the Norwegian newspaper of Aftenposten on June 13th.

Rygge Air Base

Rygge was once a proud operating base for Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16 jets, before 330 (Fighter) Squadron moved to Bodø in the north. For a long time the three RNoAF DA-20 Falcon reconnaissance and intelligence gathering aircraft of 717 Squadron operated from Rygge, before moving to Oslo-Gardermoen.

RNoAF Bell 412SP with serial 167 coming in low, sporting Gatling guns on both sides of the aircraft (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
RNoAF Bell 412SP coming in low, sporting Gatling guns on both sides of the aircraft. (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Six Bell 412SPs ground support and assault choppers from 720 Squadron and the Westland Sea King SAR detachment of 330 Squadron flew from Rygge until the mother Rygge unit of 137 Air Wing was decommissioned in 2014. With regular air ops gone, the base did not fall asleep. The Air Operations Inspection, the Air Force’s Development and Competence Center, the Armed Forces Logistic Organisation, the Flight School Selection Center, the Oslofjord’s Home Guard (HV-01) and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation are still holding their offices on Rygge. Add the US Air Force with combat aircraft in the near future.

Marines Division in Norwegian caves

Further north the US Marines are progressing on their establishment. A new political deal between Washington and Olso allows the sea soldiers to grow from the current level of 330 to 700 troops at Camp Vaernes. From there they are protecting up to a Marines division (23,000 troops) worth of tanks, armoured and soft vehicles, ammunition, food, water and other supplies stored in caves on at least five locations in the area around Norway’s third largest city in population.

A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy just after take-off from Ramstein AB, Germany (Image © Marcel Burger)
A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy just after take-off (Image © Marcel Burger)

C-5 Galaxy at Vaernes

The marines unit is a semi-permanent one, officially rotating its personnel every few months through the adjacent Vaernes/Trondheim International Airport. The airfield is a main reinforcement hub in case of war and can handle up to six giant Lockheed C-5 Galaxy strategic airlifters plus loads of smaller aircraft at any time. Much of the military infrastructure of Cold War times is still intact and the army/marine barracks of the camp can accommodate up to 1,200 troops, both from the US Marines and the Trøndelag Home Guard (HV-12).

In a few years these pilot views on Ørland Main Air Station will be history, when these F-16s have been replace by the new F-35A Lightning II (Image © David Vo / Luftforsvaret)
In a few years these pilot views on Ørland Main Air Station will be history, when these F-16s have been replace by the new F-35A Lightning II (Image © David Vo / Luftforsvaret)

Ørland Main Operating Base

Vaernes is no longer an active military airbase for many decades, but it is still very well protected even without the USMC on site. It is situated deeply in a fjord, surrounded by mountains and has the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s primary airbase of Ørland just 50 km (43 miles) away. From there the RNoAF not only operates its core F-16 squadron, but also its brand-new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealthy jets.

One of three RNoAF F-35s of the second batch just after landing on Ørland Air Base on 22 May 2018 (Image © Forsvaret)
One of three RNoAF F-35s of the second batch just after landing on Ørland Air Base on 22 May 2018 (Image © Forsvaret)

During the last week of May the F-35s doubled to six aircraft when a new batch of three arrived from the other side of the Atlantic. Another seven RNoAF F-35s are flying training missions from Luke AFB in Arizona, USA, and three more will arrive on Ørland this Autumn. Final plans call for 52 RNoAF Lightning II jets by 2024. Most of them will fly from Ørland, with Evenes near Harstand/Narvik in the north serving as a forward operating base.

A USMC CH-53 flew in to Vaernes by USAF C-5 Galaxy in February 2016 (Image © Cpl Dalton Precht / USMC)
A USMC CH-53 flew in to Vaernes by USAF C-5 Galaxy in February 2016 (Image © Cpl Dalton Precht / USMC)

Andøya Naval Air Base

While Evenes will also be home to the Royal Norwegian Air Force maritime patrol aircraft moving from Andøya, the US Navy is just starting operations from this very northern air base with its new Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft. The first of five USN P-8s landed at Andøya on June 8th, from where they will take over the defence and patrol of NATO’s northern flank from the aging six RNoAF P-3 Orion propeller aircraft. Even a USN C-40A Clipper was seen landing there, in support of the operations.

A RNoAF P-3C Orion from 333 squadron during the DV-day under the winter exercise Cold Response 2012 (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A RNoAF P-3C Orion from 333 squadron (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Oslo doesn’t want to say how long the US Navy presence on Andøya will be, but in the near future the RNoAF will fly five similar P-8s from Evenes Airbase further south. Norway ordered the pack to replace its six P-3s and three Dassault DA-20 Falcons in the years 2022 and 2023. The RNoAF 333 Squadron operating the P-3s has huge problems with fulfilling its task, both because the aircraft are not airworthy while repairs and maintenance are being slow, and because there is lack of key and supporting personnel in the unit. According to local newspapers 30 to 50 people quited or will quit working for the unit after the move from Andøya to Evenes was announced.

A USN P-8A Poseidon, a RNoAF P-3C Orion and a RNoAF C-130J Hercules at Andøya Air Station on 24 June 2017, during the 75 years anniversary of the Orion's 333 Squadron (Image © Forsvaret)
A USN P-8A Poseidon, a RNoAF P-3C Orion and a RNoAF C-130J Hercules at Andøya Air Station on 24 June 2017, during the 75 years anniversary of the Orion’s 333 Squadron (Image © Forsvaret)

While Norwegian armed forces readiness is partly failing the US seems eager to step in. Washington is even establishing closer ties with the non-NATO countries of Sweden and Finland, with both the governments in Stockholm and Helsinki signing deals recently for more military cooperation with the USA and more frequent joint military exercises. In case it ever comes to war in Northern Europe, the US seems to be better prepared and better military established than it has been there for 20 years.

© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: One of four F-22A Raptors the Pentagon wishes to be able to base on Rygge AB near Olso, Norway (Image © Elmer van Hest)

A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn't have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn’t have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on an American B-52 training over Norway (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on an American B-52 training over Norway (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)

Norwegian F-35 pilot: ‘We are on track’

He was the first Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in November 2015. Since then, he flew the jet for 170 hours, all of those at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he now serves as an instructor pilot. Right now, he and his Royal Norwegian Air Force colleagues begin preparations to ferry three F-35s to Norway later this year. It will be the first outing for the jet in the cold Nordic region. So, plenty of reasons for a chat with Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche, who says fighting an F-16 in an F-35 is an ‘uneven fight’ – in favor of the new jet.

Related reading: Dutch Lignting testers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

AHF: Hi! Can you describe your previous flight experience for us?
Hanche: “Most of my previous flight experience was in the F-16,  which I flew for more than 2200 hours. I am a graduate from the a US Navy Test Pilot School In Patuxent River. After having flown the F-35 for 170 hours, I can now say I am starting to feel “at home” in the airplane. Combined, the number of flight hours by Norwegian F-35 pilots now stands at 800 hours.”

AHF: So you guys will bring the F-35 to Norway later this year. How are you preparing for the ferry flight and subsequent operations in Norway?
Hanche: “We are on track, in terms of both educating technicians and pilots and preparing for the first aircraft arrival. The Norwegian Air Force prepares to bring its first three F-35s to Norwegian soil on November 2017. As usual, we will buy tanker support for the transit leg across the Atlantic.”

Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche. (Image © Forsvaret)
(Image © Forsvaret)

AHF: Once in Norway, what does the plan look like?
Hanche: “Once in Norway, we will follow a crawl-walk-run approach as we start to familiarize ourselves with the F-35A in the “high North”, in adverse weather conditions. No one will have operated F-35s under quite the same circumstances at that point in time. Our only option therefore is to take it slow, and gradually increase the complexity of our training and testing.

The Norwegian Operational Testing (OT) will not focus on testing which has already been done in the US by the Joint Operational Test Team. Instead, we will focus on what’s unique for the Norwegian Armed Forces. That includes operating from icy runways and using the drag chute. That system is a unique factor: our F-35s will be fitted with a drag chute, which is designed to help slow the airplane during an aborted takeoff, or during landings on slippery runways.

Initial Operating Capability (IOC) is planned for 2019, which means that the time beforehand will be used both to train air- and ground-crew, and to support operational testing.”

AHF: In what way will the Norwegian public be introduced to the F-35?
Hanche: “There will be a reception ceremony at Ørland Main Air Station in south-central Norway, near Trondheim, in November. The planning is however still in the initial phase so we will release more details later.”

AHF: In what way is the F-35’s Autonomous Logisitics Information System (ALIS) be able to support operations in Norway? ALIS is plagued by development delays.
Hanche: “Some call ALIS the heart of the F 35, while others call it the brain of the F 35. ALIS is an information technology infrastructure that captures and analyzes aircraft condition data from the F-35, supporting fleet operations, maintenance, fault-prediction and supply chain management. ALIS will be delivered in time for the first aircraft arrival.”

AHF: What kind of weapon’s capability will the Norwegian F35s have?
Hanche: “At the time of IOC, the Norwegian F-35As will be equipped with the 25 mm cannon and the 25 mm APEX round, the AIM-9X block II, the AIM-120C7, GBU-12, GBU-31 and GBU-39. A little down the road, our F-35s will also carry several other air-to-air and air-to-ground stores, including the Joint Strike Missile (JSM). The JSM is in its final development phase, and our aim is to have the missile integrated on the F-35 and ready for service with the Norwegian Armed Forces by 2025.”

(Image © Forsvaret)

AHF: In the future, what will training look like for a Norwegian F-35 pilot, starting with initial training?
Hanche: “In the future, Norwegian F-35 training will be very similar to what we are currently doing with the F-16. We will send our young cadets through an initial screening program back home, in order to find out if they are able to absorb the training they will receive once in the USA. Following that, and an initial session at the Norwegian Air Force Academy for basic officer’s training, our students will complete basic training on the T-6 Texan II and the T-38 Talon at Sheppard Air Force Base. Following that, our students will be sent to Luke for a longer and more involved basic course.”

AHF: What can you tell us about the syllabus for Norwegian F-35 pilots?
Hanche: “The syllabus at Luke is tailored to the individual student but is now generally a  transition syllabus for pilots coming from different  airframes. This syllabus is shortened compared to the basic course syllabus which is designed to accommodate a young and inexperienced pilot, straight from undergraduate pilot training.

In general, the syllabus involves classroom academics, self-study, simulator practice and lastly flying the airplane. The students go through many weeks of ground training and simulator practice before it is time to strap into the jet. The initial training focuses on the basics: How to start up, take off and land. There is also significant emphasis on emergency procedures, in order to prepare the student for a myriad of “what if”-scenarios.

After learning the basics of how to operate the airplane in a pure administrative setting, the syllabus rapidly moves on with tactical employment. We start simple, and gradually build up in intensity and complexity.”

AHF: In what way does training in Luke prepare pilots for the Norwegian theater? What adaptations are needed?
Hanche: “The basic course at Luke will prepare our Norwegian students for the role as a wingman – a pilot who is qualified to fly the entire width of the tactical spectrum in the F-35. However, we will have to add on some aspects when we get our young pilots back home to Norway. One perspective is that the perpetual summer conditions found here in Arizona do not lay the foundation for solid instrument flying procedures. Therefore, we will put significant emphasis on brushing up this basic skill, combined with flying in adverse weather conditions. We do not foresee a checkout requirement for the drag chute, but it still has to be done. Lastly, we will focus on training our young pilots on more specific procedures, like executing NATO Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) missions.”

The first Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 lands at Luke AFB. (Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)
(Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)

AHF: Luke is an international F-35 training school. What is the interaction between various nations like? Do Norwegian pilots fly with Australians colleagues for example?
Hanche:The partnership at Luke is very valuable for a small nation like Norway. We train and fly together here, using the same standards and tactics. We mix and match with aircrew and airplanes, so that one day you might find a four-ship of F-35As composed of a Norwegian flight-lead in an Italian F-35, a US wingman in a Norwegian F-35, an Italian element lead in a US F-35 and an Australian pilot in another Norwegian jet. The interaction across nationality is important for several reasons. First of all we build trust in each other, so that when we one day meet in a coalition setting, we know that we can work well together. Another perspective is that the standardization in how we do business makes it not only realistic, but easy to integrate a future coalition fleet of F-35s. Another perspective comes from the fact that the instructor cadre at Luke right now is composed of pilots with very different backgrounds. We have pilots here who flew everything from F-15Cs, F-15Es, A-10s, AMXs, F-22, Tornado, Eurofighter, F-18 and theF-16. Therefore, there’s a lot of varied and good knowledge gathered here to tap into, and it makes for an interesting and good learning environment.”

AHF: Is any testing being done by Norwegian pilots right now?
Hanche: “There is no dedicated operational testing going on at Luke. However, lessons are learned here at Luke from time to time, which might benefit the entire F-35 community. All the partner nations work closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin, in order correct any deficiencies – deficiencies that are inevitable given such an advanced airplane.”

AHF: What has been your most memorable F-35 experience so far?
Hanche: “It is difficult to pick out one specific situation. However, the first flight in the F-35A was an obvious highlight. Several things immediately struck me on that first flight. For one how well the F-35A handles, both on the ground and in the air. It is a well-behaved airplane. Another early impression was how powerful the F-35A is. The Lightning has an impressive acceleration and rate of climb, and the airspeed can easily “run away” from you if you do not pay attention. Another more specific highlight would be the first time I fought F-16s. It was impressive to see just how uneven that fight is, in favor of the F-35.”

AHF: The Norwegians have trusted the F-16 with defending their country for close to four decades. What will happen to these F-16s?
Hanche: “As we receive the first Norwegian F-35, we will gradually phase out the aging F-16 by 2021. It has not been decided yet what then will happen to them.”

Many thanks to Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche and Norwegian MoD for making this possible.

(Image © Forsvaret)

Is this the ideal OA-X candidate?

The pending US Air Force competition for a light-weight ground-attack aircraft has been widely publicized. The US is expected to formally announce the OA-X competition this summer. The winner of this competition could very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. Or could it?

Yes, the famed and feared Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt will continue to cause hazards to forces opposing the US for a few more years. However, unsure about exactly how many more years and if the Lockheed Martin F-35 will be able to fill the Thunderbolt’s shoes when it finally leaves, the US Air Force is looking at its ground attack capabilities. And the conclusion is that a small and flexible aircraft is needed.

That aircraft may very well be the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano. This Brazilian turboprop was designed in Brazil but is currenty also license-built in the US by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). As part of a contract awarded in February 2013, these aircraft are adding a ground attack capability to the Afghan Air Force. Pilots from Afghanistan learn to fly the A-29 with the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

Given this experience, the A-29 is likely candidate to enter in the OA-X competition. But ideal enough to actually  win? The US-designed and produced Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine may fit the bill just as well. And how about an armed Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet?

The first flight of the production version of the Beechcraft AT-6 in August 2013 (Image © Beechcraft)
The first flight of the production version of the Beechcraft AT-6 in August 2013 (Image © Beechcraft)
Lookin’ tough: the Textron Airland Scorpion. (Image © Textron Airland)

Plus, let’s not forget there’s another competition running right now, and it’s called T-X. The candidates in that competition may also offer the flexibility the US is looking for. An armed version over Lockheed Martin’s and Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 trainer already exists, and its  called FA-50. Meanwhile, Leonardo in Italy is already busy developing the M-346FT Fighter Trainer, an armed version of the M-346 Master.

Obviously, the winner of OA-X competition won’t be announced for some years. But it’s just as obvious that upon closer inspection, there are a lot more likely candidates than just the A-29.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

The KAI FA-50 in flight (Image © KAI)
The KAI FA-50 in flight (Image © KAI)
The armed M-346FT development (Image © Leonardo Finmeccanica)
The armed M-346FT development (Image © Leonardo Finmeccanica)



Trump’s focus on F-35 costs may serve US well

Donald Trump’s latest tweet on the F-35 will cause Lockheed Martin executives to have a not-so-merry Christmas, while the opposite will be true in the Boeing board room. After meeting top executives from both companies and being briefed on the F-35 this week, Trump on Thursday said he has asked Boeing to ‘price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet’.

Lockheed Martin’s stock immediately went down again, mirroring the effect of Trump’s earlier tweet about the F-35. However, the president-elect criticism  probably is not pointed at the F-35 itself, but at the program’s costs. Trump has made it very clear now that he will not accept such overruns after he moves into the White House in January. At the same time, Donald Trump seems to be preparing for an arms race, even stating this week that the US should expand its nuclear capabilities.

Being the businessman that he is, Trump obviously wants to keep the costs of such an arms race down. He probably realizes that his country is at a disadvantage compared to Russia and China, who are able to produce weaponry against far lower costs. China for example is developing new stealthy jets at an impressive and alarming rate. In Russia, a single new Sukhoi T-50 is many millions and millions of dollars cheaper than a single new F-35. This is indeed worrying for Trump. The signs of an arms race are already there and not to be ignored.

When it comes to the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet as an alternative for the Lockheed Martin F-35 – that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It will definitely not be as stealthy and not as capable in the domain of  gathering and spreading data. Also, the F-35 is getting closer to being fully combat ready every day.

But Trump most likely is not interested in ditching the F-35 in favour of a cheaper Super Hornet. He is interested in costs, and that may serve the US well in the end.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A US Air Force F-35A, seen at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Why Boeing plays its cards right with the T-X

Boeing this week gave itself a handful of exactly the right cards when it comes to the winning the T-X competition that is aimed at replacing hundreds of ageing US Air Force T-38 training jets over the next decade. Their solution is the twin-tailed, single-engined and apparently cleverly designed Boeing T-X, developed in partnership with Swedish Saab. The new jet may very well come out victorious.

It’s not often these days that a major aircraft manufacturer unveils a jet that was 100 percent designed from scratch. All eyes were therefore set on Boeing as the company revealed its T-X on Tuesday 13 September. Prior to that, only an artist’s impression and a few sneak peeks of the aircraftwere revealed. Boeing is producing two aircraft at first, which are registered as BT-X in the Federal Aviation Authority register.

Stealing looks
The result positively surprised many; a futuristic looking jet that however also steals some looks from the legendary F-104 Starfighter, especially when it comes to the front section. The rear more resembles modern fighter such as the F-15, F-22 and F-35. As a whole, it even looks remarkably similar to the new-ish AirLand Scorpion.

Stealing parts
And yet, the BT-X was actually not 100 percent designed from scratch and steals more than just looks for other jets. It steal the F-16’s front and main landing gear and internally uses many parts of the Saab Gripen. In the past, this design method was also succesfully used on aircraft such as the F-117. Commonality helps keeping development and production costs low and gives the jet an immediate edge over its competitors, being the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 (based on the M-346) and the Northrop Grumman T-X design. According to Boeing, their BT-X can be produced and put together relatively simple, whatever that precisely means.

Yes, Lockheed Martin T-50 is an exisiting design and also should benefit from lower development costs, and the same goes for the T-100. But both are non-US designs, and the lengthy and unimpressive process that finally led to the US designed KC-46 over the existing European Airbus A330 MRTT as the US Air Force’s next tanker aircraft, proves Washington’s preference for US designs.

Boeing T-38 contract
The Boeing T-X is just that: a design mainly from a US contractor, with just the right amount of development to be done. Considering criticised projects such as the And remember, Boeing earlier in 2016 won a ten-year contract worth $855 million for updating T-38 trainer jets, the very aircraft the T-X will replace. It’s the perfect way to gain expertise and insight into the exact requirements of modern day fighter pilot training.

Also, Boeing uses the afterburning General Electric F404 engine in its design, as do the T-50 and Northrop Grumman T-X competitor – not to mention the Saab Gripen. The yet-to-fly Leonardo/Raytheon T-100 will use two Honeywell/ITEC F124 turbofans and is he only contender to use two engines and not use afterburner. That’s a problem for the joint US-Italian designed T-100 right there in terms of costs, maintenance and performance. Northrop Grumman meanwhile has it hands full with developing the new Longe Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), also known as the future B-21.

The US Air Force’s new trainer should be fully operational in 2024 at the latest. A decision on which design wins the competition, is to be taken over the next few years. Boeing drew its cards right. No need even for a pokerface, it seems.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest