Tag: Military – Aviation

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U.S. Navy’s Adversary F/A-18E Super Hornet Has Been Given A Su-57 Felon Color Scheme

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VFC-12 F/A-18E Su-57
The F/A-18E of VFC-12 in Su-57 color scheme. (All images: VFC-12)

One F/A-18E Super Hornet of VFC-12 now sports a paint scheme inspired by the Russian Su-57 Felon.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet “Red 12”, belonging to Fighter Squadron Composite Twelve (VFC-12), the “Fighting Omars”, based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has been given a paint scheme with a paint scheme that features the profile of a Russian Air Force Su-57 Felon.

The aircraft has made its first public appearance on Jun. 18, 2021, in a FB post about the retirement ceremony of VFC-12’s Commanding Officer CDR Runzel. Interestingly, the F/A-18E sports the name of VFC-12’s new Commanding Officer, CDR Scott “CAWK” Golich on the canopy rail.

VFC-12 F/A-18E Su-57
VFC-12’s new commander officer name appears on the canopy rail of “Red 12”.

VFC-12 is the U.S. Navy adversary squadron. The unit has started the “migration” from  “Legacy” Hornets to Block I F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Along with “Red 12” at least another Super Hornet, an F model, “Red 22” appears to have been delivered to the squadron.

The “Flying Omars” of Fighter Squadron Composite VFC-12, have always operated Hornets in camouflage schemes which mimic the patterns used by some Russian Air Force fighters, like Su-27 Flankers, Su-30SMs, Su-34 Fullbacks and Su-57 Felons. In 2019, we reported about an F/A-18D Hornet two-seat aggressor aircraft painted in a unique pixelated aggressor color scheme similar to the one shown by the Sukhoi Su-57 fighter.

Paint schemes similar to their Russian counterparts are a distinguishing feature of U.S. Aggressors and Adversary jets whose liveries replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignas of their near peer adversaries, so that pilots in training who come within visual range of these adversary jets get the same sight they would see if they were engaging an actual threat.

The new F/A-18E “Red 12” of VFC-12 shows a color scheme sported by the Su-57 prototype nicknamed “White Shark”: it appears to be painted in such a way the silhouette of a Su-57 is seen from distance, a scheme referred to as “Mako”. This reminds what the Russians did on the Su-57 with bort number 053 that, wearing a a special pixelated camouflage on the underside of the aircraft that mimics the plan view shape of the Hunter remotely piloted aircraft, was seen at MAKS 2019.

Some other interesting color schemes should be applied to the Adversary Super Hornets in the coming months, some of those can be found in this article published at The War Zone last year.

Another image of the new adversary F/A-18E Super Hornet.

H/T Steve Fortson for the heads-up!

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Who Says the F-35 Can’t Dogfight? You Just Gotta Jump Out of It for the Best Shot!

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F-35 Battlefield
A screenshot of the BF trailer. (All images credit: EA DICE)

BattleField 2042 debuts with wild trailer showing pilot ejecting from F-35 to shoot down a Su-57 Felon with a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon. And gaming fans are loving it!

Well, if you still have your doubts about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s ability to dogfight, the newly released BattleField 2042 should put those concerns to rest.

The new game reveal video (a big thank you to @malgordon for the heads-up!) shows us what the Air Force can’t, the real way to dogfight in an F-35: you just have to jump out and use your shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon against the enemy Su-57 Felon, then, climb right back in and hit the afterburner!

We’re not quite sure where you put an anti-tank missile in the cockpit of an F-35, why the throttle on this F-35 suddenly appears on the right side of the cockpit, or why the pilot isn’t wearing an F-35 helmet, but hey, this is gaming. We don’t sweat the details. It’s all about the action! Besides, with a soundtrack from L.A. bad boy rockers Motley Crüe, what’s not to love?

F-35 Battlefield
The sequence of the Su-57 downing.

And speaking of action, the new game play video shows plenty of cool new weapons systems, real and imagined, some super tacti-cool uniforms and gear, and a pretty crazy face-off between some Ka-50 Hokum gunships and a souped-up Little Bird that eventually gets creamed by a guy who does an XGames ghost ride big-air off a skyscraper into the chopper. They teach this stuff at Ft. Benning now, don’t they?

The latest installment in the popular BattleField gaming series, the 2042 edition was revealed in a new game play trailer on June 9, 2021. Over 2.2 million viewers, and counting, have watched the bizarre mix of X-Games extreme sports, fantasy special operations and apocalyptic, all-out global war so far.

In a particularly weird twist, the game also gives players control over the weather. So, if you ever wondered what it would be like to wage an all-out, close quarters battle in urban terrain in the middle of a tornado, well, now you can get your answer.

In a June 11, 2021 article by gaming columnist Vic Hood, game developer EA DICE’s chief studios officer Laura Miele told techradar.com that, “We are creating epic battles at a scale and fidelity unlike anything you’ve experienced before”. The visuals in this new trailer confirm what Miele says. As outlandish as the action is, the appearance of the game is stunning.

This is the 17th edition of the Battlefield series, and the new game releases on October 22, 2021, for the PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One and good ‘ole PC platforms according to techradar.com. Pre-orders are live now. There’s no word yet if the Air Force, Marines or Navy will use the F-35 dogfight scenes to develop new outside-the-cockpit close-quarter combat tactics though..

Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.

First Leonardo TH-73A Training Helicopter Delivered To The U.S. Navy

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TH-73A delivery
A TH-73A in the U.S. Navy livery flying over Leonardo’s facility in Philadelphia. (Photo: Leonardo)

The new helicopter will replace the TH-57 Sea Ranger, allowing the introduction of a modernized training curriculum for the highest quality of training.

The U.S. Navy took delivery of the first new TH-73A training helicopter during a ceremony at Leonardo’s facilities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 10, 2021. The helicopter is the first of the 32 acquired through the initial 177 million USD firm-fixed-price contract awarded last year, out of a total requirement of 130 aircraft that will be delivered through 2024 to replace the ageing TH-57 Sea Ranger a military derivative of the famous Bell 206 Jet Ranger, after 35 years of service. Towards the end of 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense exercised options for an additional 36 aircraft in a $171 million fixed-price-contract.

“The TH-73A will be instrumental in providing higher fidelity training to our future rotary-wing and tilt-rotor aviators for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard,” said Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, Commander, Naval Air Forces. “The cutting-edge technology and advanced avionics within the Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) will enable a more seamless transition from the training aircraft to fleet aircraft, this in turn allows more focus on high end warfighting development and training.”

The new Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) of the U.S. Navy includes not only TH-73A helicopters, but also new simulators and aircrew training services, a modernized curriculum and a new contractor logistics support contract for the maintenance and flight line support requirements of the new helicopter. The TH-73A, based on the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) certified variant of the popular commercial AW119Kx,  has been fully certified  by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prior to delivery, thus bringing a ready-made solution that will transition the TH-57 platforms out of service by 2025, with the first helicopters expected to be retired during fiscal year 2022.

“This delivery signifies a new era for Naval Aviation training,” said Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff, Chief of Naval Aviation Training. “By using current cockpit technologies and a new training curriculum, the TH-73A will improve pilot training and skills, and ensure rotary wing aviators are produced more efficiently at a higher quality and are ready to meet the fleet’s challenges.”

The first TH-73A will be used to train the cadre of instructor pilots and validate the modernized curriculum efforts, which is a requirement prior to begin the training of Student Naval Aviators with the new curriculum in the new system. The AHTS has capacity to train several hundred aviation students per year at Naval Air Station Whiting Field-South (Florida), where all student helicopter pilots for the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard train along with several NATO-allied nations, accounting for the training needs of all of the Fleet Replacement Squadrons and setting up for success the students in any platform they select after the TH-73A.

TH-73A
The delivery ceremony of the first TH-73A, which can be seen in the background. (Photo: Leonardo)

“The U.S. Navy expects the highest quality of training for its future aviators,” said Gian Piero Cutillo, Leonardo Helicopters Managing Director in the press release. “We are honored to start delivery of the product chosen for this critical task. Today is just the beginning of a journey we have undertaken to support the Navy as it shapes the capabilities of future generations of aviation students.”

To support the new TH-73A fleet, Leonardo has announced the construction of a new comprehensive 100,000 sq. ft. helicopter support center at Whiting Aviation Park, located directly across the runway from NAS Whiting Field for seamless and immediate maintenance and repair support, with groundbreaking expected in December 2021. This way the company will be able to efficiently support the U.S. Navy throughout the entire service life of the TH-73A until 2050 or longer.

“The combined government and contractor team set new standards to meet much needed requirements in the fleet,” said Capt. Holly Shoger, Undergraduate Flight Training Systems Program (PMA-273) program manager. “We are proud to develop and provide these new capabilities that will improve pilot training for many years to come.”

Following the delivery, the first TH-73A will undergo the final DoD inspections before its arrival at NAS Whiting Field. According to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) press release, all the first 32 TH-73As are scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Navy this calendar year. The new helicopters will be housed in a temporary hangar until a new dedicated helicopter maintenance hangar is built, with construction to begin in 2023.

The TH-73A, initially proposed as TH-119 to the US Navy, is based on the commercial AW119 “Koala” and is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-37A engine, with a takeoff power rating of 1,002 hp and a maximum take-off weight of 6,283 lb (2,850 kg). In terms of flight performance, the TH-73 will be similar to the commercial AW119, with a cruise speed of 130 kt, 1,800 ft/min sea level rate of climb, hover in-ground-effect of 11,000 ft, service ceiling of 15,000 ft and a range of 515 NM. With these characteristics, the TH-73A will be able to be employed for both initial training flights and advanced training, as it can perform every maneuver in the U.S. Navy’s training syllabus for a seamless transition from basic maneuvers to advanced operational training.

The cockpit features an avionic suite made by Genesys Aerosystems, with four 6- by 8-inch displays, instrument-certified dual GPS/WAAS navigation system, synthetic vision system, Helicopter Terrain Avoidance Warning System (HTAWS), moving map and integrated communication and navigation systems. As already mentioned, the helicopter was also certified for IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight by the FAA. An increased level of security is provided by dual safety and hydraulic system.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Russian Su-30SM and Italian F-35As Had Their First Close Encounter Over The Baltic Sea

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Russian Su-30SM Italian F-35A
A screenshot of the video released by the Fighter Bomber instagram account showing the Russian Su-30SM and the Italian F-35A.

A video shows an interesting intercept that occurred in international airspace off Estonia.

It was just a matter of time but, in the end, a pretty interesting (and quite relaxed) close encounter between a Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM two-seat multirole aircraft and two Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft, took place in the Baltic Region.

One video and two shots, released today by the popular “Fighter Bomber” (@fighter_bomber_) Instagram account, show a Russian Su-30SM Flanker derivative flying alongside two F-35As over the Baltic Sea, somewhere off Estonia, where the Italian stealth jets are deployed to carry out QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) task in support of NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.

The short clip shows the two F-35s approaching what seems to be a An-12 (like the one already intercepted by the Italians in that scenario on May 14) aircraft that is probably flying to/from Kaliningrad oblast escorted by at least one Su-30SM.

The Italian F-35A involved in the intercept belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, the first unit of the Aeronautica Militare to receive the Lightning in 2016 and the first in Europe to achieve IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in November 2018. As explained in details in a few recent articles, the Italian jets have arrived in Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021, marking both the first time the Italian stealth jets deploy to the Baltic and the first time 5th generation aircraft support NATO’s mission in the Baltic States. On May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

The Italian F-35A jets carry out the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service in the same configuration used to support the domestic SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) on a rotational basis, where the SCL (Standard Conventional Load) includes two AIM-120C AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay. They also carry RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers (so they don’t fly in stealth mode).

Interestingly, the Su-30SM in the video appears to carry an IR-guided R-27T/ET (NATO reporting name AA-10 Alamo) air-to-air missile. Even more worth of remark is the fact that the Flanker was escorting an An-12: unless this was some special mission variant of the “Cub”, it seems quite weird that the Russian Su-30SM was escorting a simple transport aircraft. Unless, they knew NATO would scramble the F-35s and wanted the close encounter to take place.  Anyway, let’s also wait for NATO to release some details (and possibly photo) of the intercept.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Check Out These Photos Of An A-10 Warthog Pilot During Simulated-Contaminated Airfield Operations

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A-10 AERPS
A 442nd Fighter Wing A-10. (US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Jennings)

An A-10 pilot has recently carried out training with protective gear: here are some photos showing the somehow curious boarding procedure.

Simulated-contaminated airfield operations were carried out at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, recently.

Capt. Curtis Lackey, an A-10 pilot with the 358th Fighter Squadron boarded his Thunderbolt II aircraft wearing protective gear and the images the U.S. Air Force has released provide some interesting details about the somehow curious procedure the Warthog pilot had to follow to board the jet.

In particular, the shots show Lackey on the flight line, in a plastic over drape. Under the drape, the pilot wears a chemical- and biological-resistant flight suit and the AERPS (Aircrew Eye Respiratory Protection System) mask, used to provide the pilot with breathable air and mask defogging in a contaminated environment.

A-10 AERPS
US Air Force Capt. Curtis Lackey, an A-10 pilot with the 358th Fighter Squadron, dons a plastic over drape to simulate taking off from a contaminated airfield June 4, 2021, on Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Jennings)

Before boarding the jet, the pilot removes his plastic over drape and overboots to avoid contaminating the jet.

A-10 AERPS
US Air Force Capt. Curtis Lackey, an A-10 pilot with the 358th Fighter Squadron, removes his plastic over drape before boarding the aircraft. (US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Jennings)

Special flight gear, including masks and gloves, protect the head, eyes, and respiratory system of the user from chemically, biologically, and radiologically toxic environments, allowing aircrews to safely operate in virtually any hazardous environment. While the odds of protective gear being required are fairly low, U.S. aircrews regularly train to operate in contaminated airfields.

A-10 AERPS
US Air Force Capt. Curtis Lackey, an A-10 pilot with the 358th Fighter Squadron, boards an aircraft after having his overboots removed to avoid contaminating the jet. (US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Jennings)

Indeed, all the aircrews, including pilots, WSOs (Weapon System Operations) and loadmasters train with AERPS equipment, consisting of a rubber mask, multiple layers of boots and gloves, fan filter system and an audio and speaker system.

Exercises are important to assess the ability of the aircrews to safely execute missions using pieces of equipment that may limit their ability to breathe, move and communicate. Depending on the simulated scenario, the ability to don and doff masks or gloves before or after take-off, or approaching the battlefield, may also put to test.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Here Are The Photos Of The First Ever Intercept Of A Russian Aircraft By F-35 Under NATO Command In The Baltics

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F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

We have obtained the photos of the first intercept by F-35s supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing mission last month.

As already reported, the Italian Air Force F-35 aircraft deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission, carried out their first intercept on May 14, 2021.

The Lightning II jets, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, were scrambled after the Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, detected an unidentified track in the Baltic Sea flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad. Upon take off, the F-35s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) approached and identified a Russian An-12 transport aircraft flying in international airspace off Estonia.

Initially, no official photo of the intercepted Russian aircraft was released. “Actually, unlike the majority of the other allies, Italy rarely releases images of the “zombies” (as the targets of the intercept mission are called in fighter pilot lingo) taken by the Italian pilots during their QRA launches in support of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing missions around Europe,” this Author commented back then.

However, responding to a request we submitted immediately after the news of the intercept had been released, NATO Allied Air Command has eventually provided us two images showing one of the two Italian F-35s escorting the An-12 over the Baltics: nothing special to be honest, since the configuration of the Lightning was standard (with RCS enhancers and no external air-to-air missile launchers) and the “zombie” was just a “Cub” transport plane, still interesting, as they represent the only photo evidence of the first ever intercept of an F-35 under NATO command in the Baltics for the records.

Noteworthy, you can also see the pretty distinctive wingtip vortices (similar to contrails) generated by the F-35.

The flaperon and wingtip vortices have long been subject of discussion here at The Aviationist. GAO claimed that these could affect the aircraft’s stealth performance; others suggest these visible “tubes of circulating air which are left behind the aircraft’s wing as it generates lift” may make the aircraft more easily picked up visually by an enemy pilot in a WVR (Within Visual Range) engagement even though some pilots have explained that they are not a factor because if you are close enough to see the F-35’s vortices, you are probably close enough to see the jet. True, although some images taken from the ground and posted online recently of F-35s trailing a tanker indeed seem to confirm that, under certain conditions, those vortices may highlight the presence of the jet from several miles away.

F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

The Italian F-35s deployed to Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021; on May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

The Italian F-35s will remain in Estonia for the BAP mission until August, supporting “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia. The F-35s will then be replaced by the Italian Typhoons as the plan calls for Italy to support NATO BAP in Estonia until the end of 2021.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Integration Between 4th and 5th Gen Aircraft Among The Key Themes Of Astral Knight 2021 Exercise

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Astral Knight 2021
Some images of the assets taking part in Astral Knight 2021. (All images: Claudio Tramontin)

Astral Knight 2021 was a U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa-led joint multinational exercise that took place in the Adriatic region.

From May 13 to 21, personnel and assets from the U.S., Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Slovenia, took part in the latest iteration of Astral Knight, a joint multinational exercise with the “aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise.”

Astral Knight 2021 saw the return of the drills to the Adriatic theatre after the 2020 edition took place in Poland and the Baltic area.

This year, participating aircraft, based at Aviano AB, Italy, and several other locations across the region, included the U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle belonging to the 492rd Fighter Squadron, deployed to Larissa, Greece; F-16 Fighting Falcon jets and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano; C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from various bases; Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft belonging to the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola AB; Hellenic Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon and Emb-145 Erieye aircraft; and Croatian MiG-21 BisD/UMD aircraft.

Astral Knight 2021
F-16 in Have Glass V paint scheme.

A NATO E-3 AWACS and several KC-135 and KC-46 tankers also supported the exercise flying their racetracks over Italy and the Adriatic Sea, where they could be tracked online on an almost daily basis by means of their Mode-S transponders. Interestingly, online flight tracking apps and websites exposed also the presence, over Croatia, of an “unannounced” USAF E-8J Joint STARS, most probably involved in the drills.

“[Astral Knight 2021] is USAFE’S exercise for integrated missile defense,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Richard Greer, 31st Fighter Wing AK21 exercise planner. “The [exercise participants] are linking all of their command and control nodes together to be able to show a combined radar picture.”

Astral Knight 2021
F-16 taxiing.

The integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) exercise focused on defending key terrain, and scheduled training involved a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios.

This year’s edition of Astral Knight was also linked to Adriatic Strike 2021, a Slovenia-led JTAC training exercise involving 22 NATO nations intended to develop interoperability joint readiness capability. As already reported, a Spanish Tiger helicopter flying an Adriatic Strike mission was forced to perform an emergency landing after hitting a power line in Slovenia.

Integration between 4th and 5th generation aircraft by means of Link 16 was again one of the key themes of Astral Knight.

Astral Knight 2021
One of the Aviano AB-based HH-60G Pave Hawks.

While U.S. Air Force F-35As (belonging to Hill AFB’s 421st Fighter Squadron) integrated operationally with Italian Air Force F-35As and communicated with each other over the MADL (Multifunction Advanced Data Link) for the first time in 2019, Astral Knight 2021 saw two Italian F-35As deploy for the first time to Aviano AB, where they were cross-serviced by eleven F-35 crew chiefs from Hill, Eglin, Eielson and Luke Air Force Bases.

Astral Knight 2021
One of the two Italian F-35s landing at Aviano AB on May 20, 2021.

The two Italian Lightnings, including the latest delivered airframe coded 32-13 with special tail markings, made their first landing at Aviano AB on May 20, 2021.

“We started off with hot-pit refueling and interoperation servicing (IOS),” U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Drace Bertrand, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-35 crew chief said. “We had ITAF members here with us, just in case anything went wrong. We then sent the jet up to perform another mission after the IOS.”

Some interesting details about the participation of the ItAF F-35s in AK21 were released by the U.S. Air Force:

“I was flying in AK19 with the [ITAF] squadron and a [U.S. F-35s] with my former students over the Adriatic Sea,” said ‘Decker,’ ITAF 13th Squadron commander. “I felt at home in a perfect comfort zone, sharing plans is a strength for conducting operations.”

During this multinational exercise, they had the opportunity to strengthen and improve communication, partnerships and operational capabilities.

“The opportunity to put together activities, efforts and experiences is one of the added values of this [exercise],” said Decker. “It give us the chance to operate together in a harmonized scenario that satisfies the needs from all the players.”

Decker, one of the first two ITAF instructor pilots who trained on the F-35 in 2016, spoke on the F-35’s capability for interoperability with older aircraft such as F-16 Fighting Falcons during AK21.

“The Italian air force is strongly focused on the integration activity between 4th and 5th-generation aircraft, with a particular focus on the ways in which systems, including the fundamental chain of command and control, are able to interact, communicate, integrate and help each other,” said Decker.

The Italian F-35s, equipped with both the MADL and Link 16, communicated with legacy aircraft and performed the function of “enhancers” of previous generation platforms.

AK21 builds upon nations’ joint capabilities, ensuring enhanced interoperability. Decker said he has high expectations for future Astral Knight exercises.

“The more exercises like [AK21] that are in place, the more partnerships will strengthen and the more we become a unified force ready to carry out the assigned tasks for the protection of NATO airspace,” said Decker.

We had the opportunity to visit Aviano AB during the Media Day of the Exercise. The photographs you can find in this report were taken by our photographer Claudio Tramontin on May 21, 2021.

Astral Knight 2021
Aviano Viper.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

The French Air Force Is Testing The New Rafale F4-1 Standard

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Rafale F4-1
A Rafale carrying two 1000 kg AASM Precision Guided Munitions. (Photo: Dassault)

The new F4-1 standard will upgrade the Rafale capabilities introduced with the F3-R standard, as well as adding some new important ones.

The French Directorate General for Armaments (DGA) announced last week that it has begun the testing of the new Rafale F4-1 standard at the end of April. The first flight test campaign took place in Istres at the DGA flight test centre, where eight complex missions were flown, involving 50 individual aircraft sorties, from April 26 to 29.

The French Air and Space Force, the French Navy and Dassault Aviation took part in the flight test campaign, deploying six Rafale B/C, two Rafale M, two Mirage 2000 C and two Alphajet trainers, together with the Navy’s daily training assets of the Mediterranean area and DGA ground resources as specific air test controls, listening rooms and tracking systems. Dassault, Thales and MBDA helped monitor the data from the test flights in real time, also collecting the feedback from the flight crews to help the continuation of the development.

According to the DGA’s press release, the flight test campaign allowed two upgraded Rafale F4-1 to be included in a large-scale scenario, with up to eight aircraft involved in the tactical phases of the missions. This resulted in a more realistic environment where the crews also implemented unspecified collaborative combat functionalities to localize adversaries by passive means. The passive mean mentioned should most probably be the OSF (Optronique secteur frontal/ frontal sector optronics), the InfraRed Search and Track (IRST) installed on the nose of the Rafale, in front of the cockpit.

The development of the Rafale F4 standard started in early 2019, when the contract for the new upgrade was notified by the Ministry of Defense soon after the certification of the F3-R standard. “This standard is based on four pillars: connectivity, engagement, availability, and the detection and fight against threats,” said the Minister of the Armed Forces in that occasion. “This F4 standard is a technological leap, an industrial leap, a strategic leap.”

According to the DGA, improving the connectivity of the Rafale and the associated networked employment methods, both in a national and allied context, is the primary goal of the F4 standard. The new standard will be the first step towards the networked multi-platform capabilities of the future Système de Combat Aérien Futur (SCAF).

As for the availability, the Rafale F4 will include a new Prognosis and Diagnostic Aid System, introducing predictive maintenance capabilities, and a new engine control unit, while other maintenance optimization features scheduled will include solutions based on Big Data and artificial intelligence.

Rafale F4-1
Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and two Dassault Rafales assigned to the 1/4 Gascogne Fighter Squadron, 113 Saint-Dizier-Robinson air base, France, break formation during flight May 18, 2021 over France. The flight was apart of the Atlantic Trident 21 exercise which is a joint, multinational exercise involving service members from the U.S., France and the U.K., and is aimed at enhancing fourth and fifth generation integration, combat readiness and fighting capabilities, through conducting complex air operations in a contested multinational joint force environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Cook)

The F4 standard will include upgrades of existing capabilities, like the Thales RBE2 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the Spectra (Système de Protection et d’Évitement des Conduites de Tir du Rafale or, in English, Self-Protection Equipment Countering Threats to Rafale Aircraft) electronic warfare system, the OSF IRST, the Thales Talios targeting pod, the Reco NG reconnaissance pod and the communications suite. However, there will be also important new capabilities, like the Thales Scorpion Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), the MICA NG (Next-Generation) air-to-air missile and the new 1000 kg variant of the Safran AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire) “Hammer” Precision-Guided Munition (PGM).

The HMD is a long-waited capability for the Rafale. Initially, the Sagem Gerfaut HMD was chosen in the early 2000s to equip the Rafale, however the program was later dropped. According to reports, Qatar and India asked for an HMD on their aircraft, so the Elbit Targo II was integrated on the Rafale. France, however, chose to integrate the Scorpion, with a first test campaign carried out in Cazaux during March 2021, preceded by parachute compatibility tests to verify that the new helmet is safe for the pilot in the event of an ejection.

The MBDA MICA (Missile d’interception, de combat et d’autodéfense, “interception, combat and self-defence missile”) NG will be the successor of the current MICA already used by the Rafale, with the phase-out of the older missile and certification of the operational capability of the newer one expected around 2030. “Like the current MICA missile, the MICA NG will be developed in two versions: infrared and electromagnetic seeker. It will use the interface and mechanical characteristics of the current Mica in order to facilitate its integration into the Rafale. Its range is extended thanks to the use of “bi-pulse” thruster which also gives it better maneuverability in the terminal phase”, said the Minister of the Armed Forces. The MICA NG will be used alongside the Meteor BVRAAM (Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile).

As for the 1000 kg AASM, the new variant will see the AASM kit applied on the BLU109 penetrator warhead or the standard Mk-84, according to the mission’s needs. The first separation tests were performed in December 2020 at the DGA Flight test center in Cazaux. The new AASM variant will have also a specific range increase kit to extend its stand-off firing range and is expected to be certified by 2022. The Rafale will be able to carry up to three of these bombs, of which one under the fuselage and two under the wings, similarly to the already certified GBU-24 Paveway III.

The Rafale F4 standard will be fielded in two stages, in 2022 and 2024, in order to have the new capabilities operational as soon as they are certified. The next test campaign, again at the DGA Flight Test Centre in Istres, will assess the F4-1 capabilities during air-to-ground missions.

The news about the Rafale F4 testing come in the same days of the first photos of the first Greek Rafale and the order by Croatia. Greece announced last year the acquisition of 18 Rafale F3-R, of which some will be newly built while the majority will be second-hand aircraft from the French Air Force, to replace the oldest Mirage 2000 currently in service in the Hellenic Air Force. The Croatian Air Force will acquire 12 Rafale F3-R, this time all second-hand aircraft, to replace the 12 MiG-21bis currently in service, but negotiations are still in progress and a delivery date has not been disclosed.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

M-346 In Exotic Color Scheme For Undisclosed Export Customer Breaks Cover

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M-346 exotic color scheme
An M-346 Master in a new exotic color scheme about to land at Venegono airport on May 28, 2021. (All images: Oscar Bernardi)

An M-346 sporting the color scheme resembling the one applied to the Turkmenistan or Azerbaijan’s jets has been spotted in Italy last week.

A pretty interesting M-346 “Master” sporting a camouflage paint scheme quite close to the one used by the combat aircraft of the Turkmen or the Azerbaijani Air Force was spotted at Venegono airport, in northwestern Italy, after its first flight, by photographer Oscar Bernardi, on May 28, 2021.

The aircraft was reportedly involved in the very first flight in the new livery.

Although the export customer for the Italian advanced jet trainer has not been officially confirmed yet (we have reached out to Leonardo media relations who told us they do not comment images taken by spotters or photographers outside their facilities), the sighting confirms the “Master” is being reading for another operator. Which one is difficult to say, considered that both Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have been in talks with Leonardo about the jet and they use almost identical color schemes.

M-346 exotic color scheme
Another image of the M-346 Master destined to an unknown export customer.

According to some rumours, the one depicted in the photos taken by Bernardi should be the first aircraft for the Turkmen Air Force that, in May 2018, was showcased both the M-346 and the C-27J tactical airlifter.

The Turkmen Air Force is believed to have placed an order for six M-346 jets. As reported by Defense and Security Monitor last year, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs “reported to the Senate on details of the export of armaments in 2019. Turkmenistan featured prominently in the report, having become the second-largest export customer for the year, after Egypt. Ashgabat purchased €446.1 million of unspecified Italian military products in 2019. The MFA report did not break down the type of equipment Turkmenistan ordered, but it did indicate that unnamed customers had purchased six M-346 jet trainers and eight AW139 helicopters. BMPD, the unofficial blog of the Russian think tank Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, concluded it is likely Turkmenistan is the unnamed customer for the aircraft.”

Noteworthy, in December 2020 we reported about a brand new C-27J Next Generation that flew for the first time from Turin Caselle airport, home of Leonardo’s facilities, sporting a color scheme with a dark and light brown camouflage quite close to be one used by the Turkmenistan Air Force An-74.

M-346 exotic color scheme
The M-346 Master with experimental registration CSX55623.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Remembering the Fallen: Discovering a Hometown Hero on Memorial Day.

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Memorial Day
The memorial to USAF Capt. James L. Huard in front of Dearborn High School in Dearborn, Michigan. (Image credit: Author)

Memorials Across the U.S. Remember Our Fallen, And All Too Often We Miss Them.

There are so many military memorials and monuments in the United States that Google doesn’t serve a single index to them all. Perhaps because there are so many, hardly anyone here in my home town of Dearborn, Michigan notices the humble memorial to a remarkable hero that has stood in front of my high school, Dearborn High, since May 1, 1999. That oversight typifies America’s often jaundiced relationship with her military fallen, especially from the Vietnam era. But on Memorial Day 2021, I decided to look more deeply into the memorial that I pass several times every week in my own neighborhood. When I learned the story behind it, I was astounded.

Dearborn native and 1964 Dearborn High School graduate, USAF Captain James L. Huard, was a member of the most daring and innovative group of fighter pilots of the Vietnam era. Certainly one of the most remarkable units in the history of air combat. By all accounts, their exploits are the stuff of legend. These real-life, swashbuckling fighter pilots had the “Right Stuff” in volumes.

Lead by a WWII hero triple-ace, Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, who seemingly fell out of a Hollywood casting call for a leading man (he was later married to a real-life Hollywood starlet), the unit’s history of innovation, unconventional tactics and breathtaking heroism is almost too incredible to believe. But unlike a Hollywood movie starring Tom Cruise, these characters are all very real. And for years a monument to the valor and sacrifice of one of their fallen has stood in front of my High School. I never knew the story of the man behind the monument. Until now.

The story of James Linton Huard is not easy to find by today’s standards of instant information. There are tendrils of his history available through well-worded Google searches, refined keywords, re-searching and reading through government databases. But the links back to this remarkable man and his incredible story are frayed and slow to collate. That is a tragedy. That students come and go every day at Dearborn High School without knowing the full measure of this remarkable man and his amazing life is a missed opportunity.

The memorial to USAF Capt. James L. Huard in front of Dearborn High School in Dearborn, Michigan.
(Photo: TheAviationist/Tom Demerly)

Records show that James “Jim” Huard was active in basketball, track and choir at Dearborn High. Huard was also a devout churchgoer. He got good grades, and after high school he graduated from Central Michigan University in 1968. After college, he began teaching math and science at Dearborn’s Woodworth Middle School on Ternes Street.

Memorial Day
James L. Huard as a student, possibly a senior photo for the yearbook of his class at Dearborn High School. An undated Air Force photo of James L. Huard on the boarding ladder of a T-38 Talon advanced jet trainer. (Photos: via VFW and USAF)

Then something remarkable happened. The seemingly mild-mannered, humble teacher became a tiger. In 1971, after joining the Air Force and excelling at undergraduate pilot training, church-boy James Huard was selected for the elite 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) ‘Satan’s Angels’, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing ‘Wolf Pack’ at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. He flew the famous McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II. It was the hottest, deadliest, most capable fighter Mach 2 fighter jet of its time.

Capt. Jim Huard’s unit was led by Brig. Gen. Robin Olds. Among aviation history fans, Olds is legendary. A triple ace who shot down 17 enemy planes in two wars, Olds sported a handlebar moustache and Clark Gabel grin that would have made him a media darling in any conflict in American history- except Vietnam. Because of the controversy that still shrouds the U.S. involvement in Vietnam (called the “American War” by the Vietnamese), men like Capt. Jim Huard and his commander Brig. Gen. Robin Olds remain obscured from mainstream American memory. That myopic view of history is nearly as tragic as the loss of Capt. Jim Ward itself.

On the day he disappeared, July 12, 1972, near the end of his combat tour in Vietnam, Capt. Jim Huard and Capt. Sam O’Donnell Jr. were flying their F-4E Phantom II on a daring, low-level, armed reconnaissance of Quang Khe Ferry Area in North Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province. Previous intelligence had indicated that North Vietnamese troops were using a point in this area as a key supply crossing of the Rao Nay River.

Memorial Day
The F-4E Phantom II in this photo is reported to have been flown by Capt. James L. Huard, although no information accompanying the photo revealed if this is the aircraft that Capt. Huard was lost in. (Image credit: USAF)

According to available accounts, at 07.30 local time, Capt. Huard and Capt. O’Donnell Jr.’s F-4E Phantom II, callsign “Wolf 08”, entered their assigned target area. The crew made routine radio contact with the regional Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center for targeting instructions. This was to be their last radio communication before disappearing.

Weather conditions over the dense jungle area where Huard and O’Donnell Jr. were flying included scattered clouds between 5,000 and 8,000 feet and visibility of 6 miles. While good conditions for an armed reconnaissance flight, especially by Vietnamese weather standards, these conditions were perhaps even more favorable for North Vietnamese anti-aircraft units hidden in the misty jungle below. These units, who used increasingly sophisticated radar-guided guns and missiles to shoot down American aircraft, had become expert in air defense by 1972, shooting down a staggering 1,737 U.S. aircraft before the war ended on April 30, 1975.

In their last radio communication, Capt. Huard and Capt. O’Donnell Jr. in “Wolf 08” were specifically directed to the river crossing area and enemy traffic along Highway 1 north of the Rao Nay River. At the time of this final call, Huard and O’Donnell Jr.’s F-4E Phantom II was barely west of Highway 1 and about a mile from the Vietnamese coast.

By 0900 Hrs. that day, “Wolf 08” had failed to return to its base in Ubon, Thailand. The duration of its onboard fuel load had run out, and the aircraft had not midair refueled from any of the tanker aircraft in the region. The news was bad.

For three days, a massive search-and-rescue effort with multiple aircraft was mounted to locate Capt. Huard and Capt. O’Donnell Jr. in the North Vietnamese jungle. There were subsequent reports of a faint emergency beacon of the type carried by Huard and O’Donnell Jr. in the region, but they could not be verified as authentic. Huard and O’Donnell Jr. had simply vanished into the Vietnamese jungle.

On Saturday, July 15, 1972, the official search for “Wolf 08” was called off. Capt. Huard and Capt. O’Donnell Jr. were both listed as, “Missing in Action” or MIA. This date would begin 436 days of anguish for Capt. Huard’s wife Cynthia and their three sons, Peter, Daniel and Paul. One year, two months and nine days later on September 24, 1973, James Linton Huard was officially declared as having been, “Killed in Action”.

Years passed with few details about the deaths of Capt. Huard and Capt. O’Donnell Jr. in the North Vietnamese jungle on or about July 12, 1972.

Memorial Day
Curiously, few good photos of Capt. James L. Huard exist in the public domain. This photo of him appears to be on the boarding ladder of an F-4E Phantom II. (Image credit: USAF)

According to the official database on the dpaa.mil website, Capt. James Huard’s remains were returned to the U.S. on December 15, 1988 before they were positively identified. Eight years later, on January 17, 1997, using advanced DNA analysis, these remains were positively identified as belonging to Captain James Linton Huard. On January 29, 1997, his remains were returned to his family. Captain James Linton Huard was finally buried at Arlington National Cemetery on May 1, 1997. It took nearly a quarter of a century, 24 years, 9 months and 19 days, for James Huard to return home and his family to find final closure in the answers to the mystery surrounding his disappearance.

But in October of 2013, Jim Huard’s son, Mr. Paul Rogers, whose last name had changed when he was adopted after his mother remarried, revealed that the family had learned during 2010 that a North Vietnamese army doctor had recovered what was reported as “Capt. James Huard’s helmet” along with photos of the crash site of Huard and O’Donnell Jr.’s F-4E. These photos included what was reported to be an image of Capt. James Huard’s identification card. In cooperation with the new Vietnamese government and the U.S. Air Force, these artifacts were returned to the family in late 2010. The artifacts shed new light on the final moments of Captain James Linton Huard’s life and offered additional comfort to his family.

After learning about the story of Capt. James Huard, it occurred to me that the rather generically named Dearborn High School ought to be rechristened James L. Huard High School, in honor of a loyal Dearborn native who gave his life in pursuit of an ideal and in service to our country.

When I learned the origin of the humble monument in front of my high school and realized that one of these real-life heroes sat in the same classrooms as me, albeit years prior, I was amazed that his story is not more widely known in my home town. There should be books and movies about this man and his brothers in arms. That his story is not more widely known is a tragedy of history’s selective memory and an education system that has difficulty confronting more than a few chapters of American history. That is why, on Memorial Day in the United States, it is worth remembering the stories of men like USAF Captain James Linton Huard and the countless others who have made the supreme sacrifice.

Capt. James Linton Huard is remembered on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. on Wall Panel 01W at Line 056. Capt. Huard is buried in Section 60, Site 2015 at Arlington National Cemetery. In his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 267 was opened on September, 1986, and named in honor of James Huard. The road in front of Dearborn High School just behind the monument to James Huard has been renamed Capt. James Linton Huard Drive.

Memorial Day
The final resting place of James L. Huard at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photos: via Arlington Cemetery)

Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.
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