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Red Flag Scandinavian style: Arctic Challenge 2013

Nice motion blur on this Swedish Saab JAS 39A, seen in June 2006 at Satenäs in Sweden. The model A Gripen have now been replaced by C models. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Nice motion blur on this Swedish Saab JAS 39 (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Three nations, 64 combat aircraft in the air at a time, the air forces of five countries and 2000 personnel. That is Arctic Challenge. Red Flag Scandinavian Style is being held for the first time from September 16 to September 27, 2013, in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

In total 90 aircraft will be deployed during ACE13 – nice abbreviation by the way – if one includes tanker and support aircraft. Pilots will train in co-ordinated combat tactics and procedures. The scenario is a peace enforcing operation with UN mandate.

The exercise is being conducted from four airbases: F21 Luleå-Kallax in Sweden, Bodø and Ørland in Norway and Lapin Lennosto i Rovaniemi, Finland. Operations are being directed from Bodø.

Every day two missions are flown. The morning ops are done in three different areas, one in Norway, one in Sweden and one in Finland. The afternoon program is solely executed in the vast training area of Northern Sweden, from Lycksele in the south to Kiruna in the north.

Contributing countries/units and airplanes are the 211, 212, 171 Air Combat divisions and 22 JAS 39 Gripen of the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet), F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, F-18C/D of the Finnish Air Force, Royal Air Force Typhoons and 30 F-15s of the US Air Force in Europe (USAFE; both F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle).

Sweden deploys a Saab S 100 (ASC890) AEW&C and a Saab Tp 100 transport aircraft. The USAFE sends two KC-135s, NATO deploys a Boeing E-3C Sentry AWACS.

Images and a text in Swedish of the operations on September 20th here >>>

Source: Flygvapnet (Sverige) / Forsvaret Norge

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Final countdown on C-17 production line

An US Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifter at Ramstein Airbase, Germany (Deutschland). This aircraft with registration number 21100 serves with the 437th Air Wing / 315th AW, Air Mobility Command at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, USA. (Image © Marcel Burger)
An US Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifter at Ramstein Airbase, Germany (Deutschland). This aircraft with registration number 21100 serves with the 437th Air Wing / 315th AW, Air Mobility Command at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, USA. (Image © Marcel Burger)

After more than 20 years the end is in sight for the C-17 production line at the Boeing factory in Long Beach, California. But the aircraft manufacturer hopes for more.

The Globemaster III, as the aircraft is called, has come a long way. The aircraft was initially developed during the Cold War and designed to quickly put heavy M1 Abrams main battle tanks into the battlefield, with secundary other very important gear. The deployment of one C-17 could, depending on its load, change the course of a battle. But such a strategic asset needs to be reliable and many childhood problems threatened the entire project all together.

The US Air Force first ordered only 40 C-17s, but when Boeing overcame initial problems and the USAF had to retire its aging C-141 Starlifters, the American armed forces quickly saw what was lacking. True, there was the giant C-5 Galaxy and hundreds of C-130s, but with only 40 C-17 too little in between. Like the C-130s the Globemasters are able to insert their load directly into the battlefield, needing only short air strips and having no problem with unpaved runways.

The C-17 Globemaster III typically has a crew of two pilots plus one loadmaster. It can carry 158 fully-equiped troops or 158 paratroopers. Alternatively it can airlift and insert one M1 Abrams tank or three Stryker armoured personnel carriers or six smaller armoured vehicles or several trucks and cars. The Globemaster can cruise up to 450 knots, has a range of 4,482 km (2,785 miles) to be extended by in-flight refueling, needs loaded a take-off strip of 2,316 meters (7,600 ft) and would normally land on anything from 1,060 meters (3,500 ft) or longer.

Decades after its first flight and the first 1991 production aircraft 223 Boeing C-17A Globemasters III fly with the US Air Force and its subsidiaries, with the last delivered to the USAF on September 12. Moreover, the aircraft has been sold to the Royal Air Force (8 C-17A-ER), the Royal Australian Air Force (6 C-17A-ER), the Royal Canadian Air Force (4 C-17A-ER as CC-177), the NATO/EU Heavy Lift Wing (3 C-17A at Papa in Hungary), Qatar Emiri Air Force (4 C-17A), United Arab Emirates Air Force (6 C-17A) and the Indian Air Force (10 C-17A).

The way it looks now, the final seven C-17s for the Indian Air Force will be the last of the C-17s to leave the nest at Long Beach. Unless a new client stands up.

Update 12 September: the final USAF C-17 was delivered to Charleston AFB today, as reported here.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

“Netherlands threatens USA because of nukes”

Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16AM fighter jet from 312 squadron based at Volkel. (Image © Marcel Burger)
Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16AM fighter jet from 312 squadron based at Volkel. (Image © Marcel Burger)

The Netherlands is threatening the United States because of American nuclear bombs at Volkel Airbase, reports the Dutch public TV program Brandpunt Reporter Wednesday August 28th, 2013.

The collision between the two allies is not about the presence of the nukes, but rather about the financial impact in case something goes wrong. In short: the Netherlands wants the US to pay for an accident with one or more of the American nuclear bombs, say sources to TV investigative reporters. The Netherlands are said to threaten to cancel flights of US military aircraft through Dutch airspace if the Americans don’t compromise.

It is a public secret that Dutch Volkel Airbase is home to anything from 4 to 22 nuclear bombs, stored there since at least the 1960s. Officially their existence has never been confirmed, but US personnel is assigned to the Dutch base and mainly guard a separate section. Moreover, former Dutch prime minister Mr. Ruud Lubbers did talk about them in a recent National Geographic documentary.

From the 1970s to well into the 1990s Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 fighter jets at Volkel trained for nuclear bombardment of targets in Eastern Europe. Since the Cold War between the American-led NATO and the Russia-led Warsaw Pact ended in the mids of the 1990s, the nuclear bombs remain in case they will ever be deemed needed by NATO allies or the US itself.

According to one of the sources the TV program spoke to the nuclear weapons are routinely rotated, meaning transport of nuclear weapons through the air by USAF C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifters from the 62nd Airlift Wing. The Netherlands seem to be most afraid that one of the transport flights ends up in disaster.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

Strike Eagles, Typhoons, Hornets and Navy team up

A knife edge pass by a Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle. Sometimes, life is simple. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A knife edge pass by a Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle. Sometimes, life is simple. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

The Royal Navy warship HMS Dragon, Royal Air Force Typhoons, US Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet and US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles have put their skills and technology to the test during a recent joint exercise.

The goal was to detect, classify and monitor contacts on the sea’s surface in the challenging conditions of the Gulf. The Type 45 destroyer provides a complementary service to the highly manoeuvrable and effective Typhoon fast jet combat aircraft.

One of Dragon’s fighter controllers, Lieutenant Francis Heritage, said: “We received the help of a United States Air Force Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, aircraft to cue our fighters onto their targets. The JSTARS surface radar is incredibly powerful. When combined with our own organic sensors and those of the jets under our control, we can provide force protection over a massive area.”

The American surveillance jet fed information directly into Dragon’s operations room, allowing the destroyer to cue fighter jets onto their objectives. HMS Dragon is in the second half of her inaugural deployment, which is a mix of carrying out maritime security operations with the UK’s Gulf partners and contributing to the wider air defence of the region, such as when she joined forces with the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group a few weeks ago.

Source: UK Ministry of Defence

More F-35s to Luke

F-35A Lightning IIs perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker on May 13, 2013, off the coast of northwest Florida. (Image © USAF / Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)
F-35A Lightning IIs perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker on May 13, 2013, off the coast of northwest Florida. (Image © USAF / Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)

Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, will get 72 additional F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft, bringing the eventual total number of the fifth-generation fighters expected there at 144.

The Air Force’s initial decision to establish an F-35 pilot training center here was announced in August 2012, following a three-year process that included an extensive environmental impact analysis.

The Lockheed Martin F-35A, also known as Joint Strike Fighter, intended to be the Air Force’s premier strike aircraft through the first half of the 21st century. It is a multirole fighter that is expected to eventually phase out the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thuderbolt II.

Aircraft are expected to begin arriving at Luke AFB in spring 2014, although exact timing will depend on production schedules. Construction on base to prepare for the aircraft is currently underway, with about US$10 million of US$57 million in projects already completed.

The 2012 Record of Decision cited several reasons why Luke AFB was the service’s top choice for F-35A basing, including facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather and capacity for future growth. The base has been training fighter pilots for more than 70 years.

Source: USAF