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Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
The F/A-18D J-5233 taxies at Meiringen on Sept. 14, 2020. (Image credit: The Aviationist/Alessandro Fucito)

In September 2018, the Swiss Air Force sent two of its Hornets, from Emmen, Switzerland, to Vidsel Air Base, Sweden, for a testing campaign with the AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile). From Sept. 20 to Oct. 12, 2018, the Swiss aircraft (a single seater F/A-18C and a two-seater F/A-18D) were involved in a series of missile tests over the Vidsel Test Range, located in the north part of the country.

With its 7,200 km² of restricted airspace and 3,300 km² restricted ground space, Vidsel is the largest over ground test facility in Europe, often used by defense organizations and industries for testing various weapon systems.

Vidsel Range - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
A map of Vidsel Range. (Image credit: FMV Vidsel Range)

The AIM-120C-7

The AIM-120C-7 (sometimes referred to as AIM-120C7) has been under development since 1998. It is an upgraded variant of the AIM-120C AMRAAM and features extended range and enhancements in homing capability.

AIM 120C on F 16 - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
An AIM-120C on an F-16 at Aviano AB. (Image credit: USAF).

Back in 2010, at an estimated cost of 318M USD, the Government of Switzerland requested the purchase of 150 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM, 6 AIM-120C-7 Telemetry Missiles, 24 AIM-120C-7 Captive Air Training Missiles, 1 spare Missile Guidance Section, missile containers, weapon system support equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documents, repair and return, depot maintenance, training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support. A first batch of equipment was delivered to Payerne Air Base, using a U.S. Air Force C-17A #07-7175 flying as RCH386, on Sept. 21, 2016.

As part of the firing activities carried out with the latest generation’s AMRAAM in 2018, the F/A-18C Hornet fired the AIM-120C-7 at Kratos MQM-178 FireJet target drones.

The MQM-178

The Kratos MQM-178 Firejet is one of the aerial target drones available at the Vidsel range (the other being the BQM-167i). According to the company’s website, “it fills a variety of end-to-end weapons-release training roles, including surface-to-air and air-to-air. Capable of flying a wide variety of speed and maneuverability profiles, Firejet delivers a high degree of versatility by providing the opportunity to test multiple weapon systems with one flexible and affordable aerial target system.”

The MQM-178 features a max speed of M0.76 and a high-maneuvrability: 10 g instantaneous and 6 g sustained.

With a length of 3.3 m and a dry weight of 59 kg, the MQM-178 is the smallest of Kratos’ aerial targets. It is capable of carrying a combination of internal and external payloads, including tow targets, proximity scoring, passive & active (RF) augmentation, and infrared (IR) augmentation. Depending on the scope of the test, it can carry Luneburg lens (LL), miss distance indicator (MDI), Infrared (IR), passive and active radio frequency (RF) and dispenser for chaffs and flares. It is pneumatically launched, meaning that it doesn’t need Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO) equipment and facilities.

F/A-18D Markings

Interestingly, some time after the test, the two seater, J-5033, was given some special markings for deployment: the badge of the 2018 campaign along with the silhouettes of an AMRAAM and a FireJet target drone appear between the canopy and the LERX (Leading Edge Root Extension) in the nose section of the jet. The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito took the photos of the aircraft last week at Meiringen Air Base.

Considered that two F-18s were involved in the firing campaign, it seems quite likely that the same markings were also applied to the C model, however, we haven’t been able to find it yet. If you have some details or photos about it, please let us know. In the meanwhile, it’s worth highlighting that it is not clear whether the D model fired the missile(s) or just supported the tests flying as “chase”, as planned.

Noteworthy, a Swiss Air Force F/A-18C had already fired an AIM-120C-7 missile as part of “Thor’s Hammer” exercise at Vidsel in December 2014.

J 5233 Meiringen - Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden
The two-seater J-5233 takes off from Meiringen AB.

Lockheed Martin Releases New Animation of F-16s Using Tactical Airborne Laser Pod

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Lockheed Martin Releases New Animation of F-16s Using Tactical Airborne Laser Pod
An F-16 using its laser to target an incoming threat. (Screenshot from LM video).

An interesting new video has just been released by Lockheed Martin. Focusing on the Tactical Airborne Laser Weapon System (TALWS), the animation shows F-16s equipped with laser pods cooperate with a Boeing KC-46 Pegasus equipped tactical infrared sensors able to passively detect and track threats. Once the tanker (a High-Value Aerial Asset that can be targeted by several different threats) detects an incoming missile, it passes its position to the two Vipers that can use their the beam director in their pod to put high-energy light on-target and keep it there with high precision to defeat the threat.

Some parts of the animation were already included in another video that was released last month, but this time we get to see the whole “scene”.

Laser Weapon Systems

Two laser systems could be seen in the previous video released by LM: a pod mounted under the centerline hardpoint of an F-16 and a fixed system mounted in a fairing under and AC-130’s fuselage. As already explained, the systems are based on fiber laser technology, a type of laser which uses as active gain medium an optical fiber, as opposed to solid-state laser which uses a glass or crystalline solid material.

You can read everything about the Lockheed Martin Airborne Defensive Laser System for F-16 and C-130 in this article we published last month. Here is an excerpt:

The name of the laser system has not been mentioned, however, in 2017, the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for the design, development and production of a high power fiber laser, as part of the Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program to protect aircraft from air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.

In the press release for the contract award, SHiELD is mentioned as including three subsystems:

  • SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE): the beam control system, which will direct the laser onto the target;
  • Laser Pod Research & Development (LPRD): the pod mounted on the tactical fighter jet, which will power and cool the laser;
  • Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE): the high energy laser itself, which can be trained on adversary targets to disable them.

[…]

The SHiELD pod was to be tested in 2021, however DefenseNews reported that the test will be delayed to 2023 due to technical challenges and complications that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jeff Heggemeier, SHiELD program manager for AFRL. Adding to this, then Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin was quoted as saying: “I’m extremely skeptical that we can put a large laser on an aircraft and use it to shoot down an adversary missile even from very close.” It is not completely clear if Griffin was referring to a specific system, which most probably could be some anti-ballistic missile defense system, however this raised some concerns.

[…]

As of now, we don’t know officially on which aircraft the AFRL will test the SHiELD pod, however AirForceMagazine reported last year that the defensive laser system may be demonstrated on the F-15, while Lockheed Martin showed the pod on the F-16C and C-130J-series aircraft. An older rendering showed the pod also on the F-16V Block70.

Live French Matra Super 530 Air-to-Air Missile Discovered At Lakeland Linder International Airport, Florida.

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Live French Matra Super 530 Air-to-Air Missile Discovered At Lakeland Linder International Airport, Florida.
Members of the 6th Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Team from MacDill AFB in Florida, assist local authorities with the handling and disposal of a French-made Matra air-to-air missile discovered at nearby Lakeland Linder Airport on Friday, August 14, 2020. (Photo: MacDill AFB Released).

It reads like a chapter torn from a Tom Clancy novel, a live French-built Matra Super 530 short to medium range air-to-air missile turned up mysteriously at the Lakeland-Linder Airport southwest of Lakeland in Polk County, Florida last Friday, August 14, 2020.

The missile was discovered by an employee of Draken International, a privately-owned contract adversary simulation company that provides fighter jets, pilots and support crews to act as adversaries to U.S. and allied air arms in training exercises.

MissileFound 20 - Live French Matra Super 530 Air-to-Air Missile Discovered At Lakeland Linder International Airport, Florida.
The discovery of the Matra air-to-air missile at Lakeland Linder Airport on Friday raises questions about how the weapon was able to enter the U.S. undetected. (Photo: MacDill AFB Released)

But how the missile got to Florida remains a mystery.

Draken International is headquartered at the Florida airport and also operates from Nevada’s Nellis AFB, where the Air Force maintains an adversary simulation or “Aggressor” unit.

Last Friday’s discovery of the missile is oddly reminiscent of a similar incident in Italy on July 15, 2019 when elite General Investigations and Special Operations Division operatives of the Italian State Police raided a neo-Nazi sympathizer cell with weapons stored in a warehouse near Voghera-Rivanazzano Terme airport, in northern Italy. Subsequent reports from Israeli sources said there was, “No reason to believe there was an active plot to use the arms.” An Italian language report published on nextquotidiano.it said the missile seized in the Italian raid did not have a warhead. However, the appearance of a long-range air-to-air guided missile that had somehow been smuggled into first Italy and additionally the United States while remaining undetected is unusual.

MissileFound 30 - Live French Matra Super 530 Air-to-Air Missile Discovered At Lakeland Linder International Airport, Florida.
Members of an elite Italian special police unit pose with a similar Matra Super 530 missile seized in Italy just over a year ago on July 15, 2019. (Photo: ANSA via TheAviationist.com)

The Matra Super 530 remains in service with France and Peru and a number of Middle Eastern air arms. The missile is most commonly seen on the Dassault Mirage F1. Interestingly, Draken International also operates the Dassault Mirage F1 aircraft in their opposing force simulation role.

Officials of Draken International released a statement following the incident that read, “Draken International, in the process of evaluating arriving shipments, discovered something questionable and potentially explosive. Adhering to the explosive safety rule of exposing the minimum amount of people for the minimum amount of time to a potential explosive hazard, the decision was made to evacuate the facility and its surrounding neighbors and contact appropriate authorities. Draken takes its role in the community seriously and always wants to insure it performs safe and reliable operations.”

Markings on the missile container indicated it may have originated from the Royal Jordanian Air Force. The lot dates back to 1982 (as compared to the Italian one that was dated 1983).

The Mirage F1s in service with Draken International were most recently purchased from the Spanish Air Force according to a March 27, 2018, media release by Draken International. The company purchased 22 Mirage F1M and F1B aircraft “in an effort to enhance adversary services for its U.S. Department of Defense and allied nation customers”.

Once this latest mystery Matra Super 530 missile was discovered by Draken International employees, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit and the Lakeland Fire Department were notified. Nearby MacDill AFB issued a statement on social media that said, “This weekend we received a call that a contractor at Lakeland Linder Airport had discovered a guided missile. Our 6th EOD team helped secure it with the help of ATF, the Lakeland Fire Department, and our 6th LRS team who provide a flatbed semi for transportation. It [the missile] is currently sitting in a munition storage facility on base awaiting proper disposal”.

“It was live, but unarmed,” an Air Force public affairs officer told the Military TimesThe missile was “like having a gun with a bullet in chamber, but on safety,” that official elaborated. “Someone would have to arm the missile to fire it.”

But while the fate of the newly discovered mystery-missile is now decided (it should be disposed at MacDill AFB), its origin remains a mystery that seems to have walked off the early pages of a military techno-thriller. To find out how the missile made its way to Florida from Jordan (or Qatar, as some other sources suggest) we’ll apparently have to wait for the next chapter in this developing plot.

Let’s Talk About The SA-8 Gecko And The Video Of The Shooting Down Of An Azerbaijani Drone Emerged Recently

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Let’s Talk About The SA-8 Gecko And The Video Of The Shooting Down Of An Azerbaijani Drone Emerged Recently
File image of a Belarusian SA-8. In the box, the debris of the Orbiter 3 drone.

An interesting video of the shooting down of drone was released on Twitter by the Armenia’s Ministry of Defense recently. It was filmed inside the Target and Fire Control Station of the OSA-AK (NATO Name SA-8 Gecko) system and the reader can clearly hear the sound of the missile at the time of launch as confirmed by the TV scope where you can see the white trail of the missile booster, as well as the subsequent impact and explosion.

Although the Russian “Gecko” system is one of the most common tactical point defense systems in Eastern Europe and in those countries belonging to the Russian’s “commercial partners”, the video of this engagement represents an extraordinary rarity as it reveals some of internal systems of the Gecko at work during a combat mission.

Some unofficial information reports that the drone targeted by the SA-8 was shot down over Artsakh on April 21, 2020 and the remains of the drone were reported the next day, on April 22.

The downed drone, an “Orbiter 3”, is a Small Tactical UAS (STUAS) belonging to the Orbiter family. Its wingspan is about 4.4 m for 30 kg of MTOW (Maximum Take Off Weight). The Orbiter3 is a multi-capable and multi-role UAS designed to conduct intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) and terrain mapping. Thanks to the multi sensor option like EO sensors , FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) day and night, and the Laser Target Designator (LTD) it is also capable to designate and illuminate a TGT (target) on the ground.

orbiter3 - Let’s Talk About The SA-8 Gecko And The Video Of The Shooting Down Of An Azerbaijani Drone Emerged Recently
An Orbiter 3 drone during launch from the catapult system. (Image credit: aeronautics-sys.com)

The “Geko” is it is an extremely lethal system when entering its MEZ (missile engagment zone) and for this reason it should always be avoided.

However, as you can see from the image, it is a mobile system, therefore its strength lies in the ability to continuously change the position so that it is not predictable. I remember very well that in all the exercises I took part as a fighter pilot, it was one of the most feared systems for this reason.

In the simhq.com forum we found interesting information and re-representations of the internal console of the Geko and their meaning. Thanks to these details it is very simple to understand how the different operators acted and merged all the scope information before the drone lock-on. As reported in the forum, the standard operators configuration includes three military: the RO (Range Operator), the AO (Azimuth Operator) and the EO (Elevation Operator).

fire control station - Let’s Talk About The SA-8 Gecko And The Video Of The Shooting Down Of An Azerbaijani Drone Emerged Recently
The SA-8 fire control station console. (Image credit: simhq.com)
range azimuth and elevation indicators - Let’s Talk About The SA-8 Gecko And The Video Of The Shooting Down Of An Azerbaijani Drone Emerged Recently
Sketches, most likely coming from the Gecko user manuals, that explain how to interpret the information on three screens. From left to right 1. Range scope indicator 2. Azimuth/range indicator 3. TV scope, 4. elevation/range indicator. (Image credit from forum simhq.com)

Both of them have to synchronize and exchange information to get to the firing solution as you can see in the video at the end of engagement. Thanks to the on-board radars, the Gecko is a completely autonomous system capable of providing a radar guidance of the missile but also an optical guide as likely happened in the shooting down of the drone.

sa8 - Let’s Talk About The SA-8 Gecko And The Video Of The Shooting Down Of An Azerbaijani Drone Emerged Recently
“Geko” description 1.Target Acquisition Radar,2 IFF interrogator,3 Target Tracking Radar 4 Missile Tracking Radar,5 Missile Command Transmitter antenna,6 Missile Tracking Radar 7 Karat Camera (Optical Target Tracking). (Image credit from forum simhq.com)


Can a private pilot land an airliner? (FREEview 105)

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