Saturday, 29 December 2018

Book reviews, Moscow's Game of Poker - Putin's intervention in Syria by Tom Cooper. Assad Latakia Russian-operated Khmeimim (Hmeymim) airbase. Operation Aleppo by Tim Ripley

Photos via Russian MOD @ SyriaMIL.RU

"..Thousands of combat sorties have been flown, tens of thousands of terrorists and their infrastructure have been destroyed, and hundreds of Syrian cities and towns have been liberated.  Russian pilots, special ops, marines, doctors, and diplomats have spent two years helping the lawful president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, hold his country together and rid it of terrorists..."

By the autumn of 2015, the war in Syria had already dragged on for four long years. " The greatest human disaster of the 21st Century ", as described by Christopher Phillips, saw more than 50% of a population of some 20 million internally displaced or fleeing abroad. The mass anti-government demonstrations that began in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa had quickly escalated into skirmishes with the military. And terrorist factions immediately “hijacked” these popular protests. Soon, the leading role in the battle against the ruling regime was being played by extremists from the Islamic State, Jabhat Al Nusra, Al-Qaeda, and many factions within what has been called the “moderate opposition” – mainly in the Free Syrian Army championed by the West. Large tracts of Syrian territory had fallen under the control of anti-government groups.. The Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War began in September 2015, after an official request by the Syrian government for military aid against these rebel and jihadist groups.  The so-called "Aviation Group" of the Russian Air Force in Syria moved into the Khmeimim air base in Latakia province in the north-west of the country and started air strikes against militant groups opposed to the Syrian government..

Ever since, Russian military capabilities and intentions - in Syria and beyond - have been under scrutiny. According to Tom Cooper in this rather slim but impressive new book published by Helion in the UK,  " many, the performance of the Russian military - and especially the Russian Air-Space Force (VKS) - in this war was a clear demonstration of advanced technology, improved training, fearsome firepower, and great others, the military operation only experienced limited success and exposed a number of weaknesses. Foremost among the latter were aircraft ill-suited to the necessities of expeditionary warfare, and a gross lack of advanced weaponry and equipment..."

So despite the appearance of the latest T-90 tanks in Middle Eastern deserts, cruise missile firing warships and submarines in the Mediterranean, cyber attacks, and robotic drones hovering over Syrian targets, Russia's war in Syria was primarily fought by Russian aviation. Among a whole series of combat 'debuts' Putin even deployed long-range Tu 160 Blackjack, Tu 95 MSM and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers, some flying from the Arctic, around the British Isles, past Gibraltar, to drop precision bombs and launch cruise missiles against IS targets in Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor as well as targets in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. This was following the Metrojet A321 terrorist bombing over Sinai in October 2015 with heavy loss of Russian life. The first combat sorties were flown from Russia’s sole aircraft carrier stationed in the Med, although after two machines were lost through accidents the carrier's Su 33 aircraft were subsequently deployed ashore. And while there was plenty of ancient technology on view at Khmeimim (in particular the Su 25 attack aircraft) and some 50% of all ground-attack sorties were flown by the Su 24 Fencer,  a handful of the latest fighter bombers - particularly the highly capable Sukhoi Su 34, able to carry Western-style precision-guided munitions-  also saw their combat debuts in Syria.

From December 2017 when Putin declared the war was won, it was clear that Russian intervention - along with that of their close Iranian allies - had been instrumental in restoring Syrian Army morale, driving out civilians from rebel-held areas  and bringing about a turning point in the Syrian Civil War. Organized and run in cooperation with very diverse allies - ranging from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran (IRGC), Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Kurdishan Workers Party (PKK) and a myriad of local warlords and their armed militias - their combination of intentional bombardment of insurgent-controlled parts of Syria -with no scruples shown about killing the many thousands of civilians that found themselves in the firing lines - and indirect protection for the IRGC's own military intervention in the country from a possible counter-intervention of the West, the Russians effectively saved President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

By the end of 2017, Russian intervention had led to the recapture of Palmyra from ISIL (March 2016), the retaking of the major city of Aleppo (December 2016), the breaking of the three-year-long siege of Deir ez-Zor in the east of the country and the establishment of full control over that city. (November 2017). For more than a year Deir ez-Zor’s garrison and population had relied on SyAAF Mi-8 helicopters as their only lifeline. The Russians flew air-drop sorties with IL-76 transports alongside the UN’s own airdrop efforts. Sukhoi 30 SMs flew escort for these missions. In early January 2018, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov said that, overall, Russian aviation had carried out 19,160 combat missions and delivered 71,000 strikes on "the infrastructure of terrorists". At the end of December 2017, the Russian defence minister stated that over 48,000 service members had ″gained combat experience″ during the Russian operation in Syria. And as Tom Cooper points out Moscow had achieved a minor miracle on the geo-strategic level  -  a brutal dictatorship involved in the systematic elimination of many thousands of its own people, and frequently with the help of chemical weapons, was made popular in both far-right and the far-left circles alike around the World. In addition the resulting flow of refugees destabilized the European Union and large parts of NATO - two parties considered the actual primary opponents by the government in Moscow - and increased the popularity of the President Vladimir Putin to unprecedented levels.

Illustrated with more than 130 photographs, maps and many of Tom Cooper's excellent colour artworks, 'Moscow's Game of Poker' provides a well-written text outlining the myriad participants in this extremely complex conflict, and the areas it impacted. It provides a ‘unique and in-depth study of Moscow's political aims, strategy, doctrine, target selection process, military technology and tactics’ in what was Moscow’s most ambitious overseas operation since Afghanistan. In refusing  another US-led regime-change so close to home Russia had faced down the West on the international stage and re-asserted a key presence in the Middle East. This story is told in combination with insights into the similar campaign run by what was left of the Syrian Arab Air Force..

According to the blurb  Tim Ripley's "Operation Aleppo - Putin's war in Syria'  fills a badly-needed gap in Western public knowledge about the current capabilities of the Russian state..."

I don't necessarily agree with the author's assertion that " ..Putin's military is much more advanced than we thought it was..". The West were simply unable to reconcile the conflict in their world view - on the one hand Obama had to fight and defeat ISIS terrorists, but that meant effectively aiding and abetting the cruel despot Assad. For the Russians there was no 'moderate' opposition in Syria - they were all 'terrorists'. The West (the US and Obama ) found themselves advocating  regime change again - but this time the country concerned had already largely fallen to the various terrorist groupings. So in the West there was much 'hand-wringing' but little action. And while the West backed away, Putin had no such scruples, especially since these Muslim Jihadis were far too close to home for comfort..

The use of long-range strategic aviation to bombard ISIS not only showed off Russia’s strike capability but allowed its ‘Aviation Group’ to continue its core task of supporting the Syrian Army in its on-going ground offensive. According to author Ripley the deployment of attack helicopters was decisive for the ground offensive - another Syria combat 'first' were the Kamov KA 52 helicopter gunships operating alongside MI 28 helicopter gunships deployed against Islamic State. According to the Russian Defence Ministry the advanced and potent KA 52 helicopter gunships were used alongside the MI28s to support Syrian army operations around Palmyra. The Syrian army needed to take full control of the territory around Palmyra before it could risk an advance on Deir ez-Zor in the south-east of the country. A failure to do so risked an Islamic State counter attack on Palmyra as the Syrian army was advancing towards Deir ez-Zor. The Syrian army scored a major success on 3 April 2016 with the liberation of the traditionally Christian town of Al-Qaryatayn.

On Putin′s orders, the Russian aviation grouping comprising more than 50 aircraft, had started to intensify their campaign from late 2015. The mass cruise missile strikes carried out against ISIS in Deir ez Zor province on 20 November resulted in the death of more than 600 militants according to the ministry. However as in any war there were some losses. The shooting down of  a Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft by a Turkish Air Force F-16 on 24 November 2015 led to seven months of very strained relations with the Turks - and almost resulted in the first clash of a NATO member country with Russia. The unfortunate pilot was shot and killed by Syrian rebels while descending by parachute. Elsewhere as many as four KA 52 attack helicopters were lost in a conflagration at the T4 air base in central Syria when it came under mortar attack from rebel forces.

Ripley's account ends in December 2017 with the war in Syria apparently won. Although there have been few communiques from the Defence ministry since, bombing raids have been flown by the VKS on nearly every day during 2018 There are still large areas of Syrian territory that appear to be under rebel control. In Feb 2018 Major Roman Filipov, the Russian pilot of a Su-25 jet that was downed by an anti-aircraft MANPAD over Syria's north-western Idlib province, died in particularly horrible circumstances. After coming down by parachute - apparently behind 'rebel' lines-  Jihadis closed in to take him captive.  "..Major Roman Filipov waged an unequal battle to the last minutes of his life, with regular weapons, fending off militants. Finally, with the encircling terrorists closing in, and being seriously wounded, when the distance to the militants was reduced to several tens of meters, the Russian officer blew himself up with a grenade .the pilot died heroically," Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman added. "We are proud of our heroes."

The UK Daily Telegraph reported subsequently that ".. Russia intensified their raids on Idlib overnight and into Monday morning in retaliation. Civil defence workers said air raids struck the towns of Kafr Nubl and Maasran, as well as the cities of Saraqeb, Maarat al Numan and Idlib, and that several deaths and dozens of injuries were reported as rescuers dug through the rubble. A hospital was hit in Maarat al Numan and at least five people were feared killed in another attack that damaged a residential building in Kafr Nubl. Video recorded by rescuers showed hospitals workers moving premature babies from destroyed incubators, trying to protect them from the dust. In Idlib city, the provincial capital, one witness said a five-storey building was levelled and that at least fifteen people were feared dead. Air strikes on Saturday after the downing of the jet killed at least 10 people, including children, in Khan al Subl near where the plane crashed, rescuers said. "We are pulling bodies from under collapsed walls. The Russians are taking their revenge on civilians, many of whom were already displaced and had fled their homes from earlier bombardment," said Ahmad Hilal, a civil defence rescuer. A chemical attack was also reported in the northwestern town of Saraqeb, where five people were admitted to hospital experiencing difficulty breathing. Assad forces are thought to have carried out three chlorine attacks on civilian areas in the last four days, in contravention of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Syrian army and its Iranian Shia militias allies made a string of gains in the last week after capturing a major air base that brought them just 7.5 miles from Saraqeb, the first heavily populated city in Idlib within their reach. They were pushing towards the main Damascus-Aleppo highway, the capture of which would cut rebel supply lines and open the door to an army advance into the heart of the province..."

Tim Ripley's lengthy and carefully prepared work has come mostly from open 'intelligence' sources such as the above - commercial satellite imagery, social media accounts and photographs posted by Russian soldiers and airmen and sailors (that help locate them and date them in Syria), from Russian, Iranian and other TV and journalistic sources, from industrial and diplomatic sources and from senior western defence sources. Fake news? Some of it, possibly. I do think the book suffers from a little lack of objectivity. But the author does acknowledge this  - bomb damage assessment, for instance, is hard to come by.  Details and dates of Russian transport ship movements and their on-deck military cargoes, as well as data widely available on line from flight radar tracking websites involving transport into Syria via refuelling stops in Iran in many instances connect them to major Russian military operations in support of the Syrian army.

This is a book for defence writers as much as for the general public. It not only tells, for example, of the death of Russian Special Forces soldier Artyum Gorbynov, 24, as he was protecting a group of Russian military advisers outside Palmyra on 2nd March 2017, but also that his team engaged an ISIS vehicle-born suicide bomber "with a 9K113 Konkurs anti-tank missile,' and was also shown in Russian news video directing air strikes by Mil Mi-28 attack helicopters. With so much Russian hardware in Syria, one might wonder how they avoided running into the US, British and other forces.

We learn that deconfliction - not entirely successful - was by means of hot line phones between Russian, Syrian and allied command headquarters - this was especially the case for the American cruise missile blitz on Shayrat in April 2017 following a Syrian Air Force bombing raid using chemical weapons that resulted in many civilian deaths - Russian and Syrian personnel were able to take cover before some fifty-odd cruise missiles blitzed the airbase wiping out virtually what was left of the Syrian Air Force..

 All in all, this is a sobering and useful book which reveals exactly why, if the West instinctively found itself shouting from the sidelines, Putin's Russia had the resources, the desire and capability to plant its own flag and change the geopolitical face of the Middle East. And it was a 'good' media-led war for Putin which succeeded mightily in deflecting attention from the war in the Ukraine which was not so popular at home...

However Ripley's self-published work just misses out on 5 stars due to inadequate proof reading and a hopelessly inadequate photo section - with all the many fine images made available by the Russian MOD (as here) there really should have been more and in colour!

Below; Assad visiting Khmeimim air base and trying out a Flanker super-fighter Su 35S for size..

Other links and references of interest including more pages of this blog;

Aircraft of the Syrian conflict -September 2014

On board with a SyAAF Sukhoi Su-24M2

the Admiral Kuznetzov Russian aircraft carrier on its way to Syria

A guide to Flanker suffixes

SyAAF in Hama, MiG 21 and 23

SyAAF Suhkoi Su 22 at Sheyrat AB

What kind of victory for Russia in Syria?

Friday, 28 December 2018

Fazlollah Javidnia IRIAF F-14A Tomcat ace with AIM-54

The AIM-54 “Phoenix” was the only American BVR (beyond-visual-range) long-range air-to-air missile ever developed. With multiple-track and launch capability it was conceived as a fleet defender/bomber interceptor in combination with its unique launch platform the F-14 Tomcat. When the Soviet long range bomber threat collapsed in the 1990s, the Tomcat/Phoenix combination was hardly needed anymore as the Hornet with Slammers can give it a decent punch up to about 50-60 miles out. Some details of the 'Phoenix' remain classified decades later, but according to one blogger " fact remains and will forever shadow the legacy of an otherwise monumental piece of technology - it never hit a target in combat.."  Unit cost for the several thousand missiles manufactured was over $400,000 but the only missiles ever fired in anger by American fighters either failed or missed the target. However some 274 AIM-54s were sold to the Iranians and in Tom Cooper's “Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat” - the only western account of the F-14 in combat in Iran - Iranian pilots claim they used the “Phoenix” to score 60-70 kills in the Iran-Iraq war. Cooper writes that the Iranian F-14s were used to protect Iranian Air Force tankers and to engage Iraqi fighters, including MiG 25s and Mirage F.1s at beyond visual range with the AIM-54. Iran subsequently claimed via its state-run English-language news service to have developed an improved and updated version of the AIM-54, the Fakour 90.

Given the weight of the 'Phoenix' missile the most common load out for the F-14 was 2 'Phoenix', 2 AIM-7, and 2 AIM-9. An F-14 could not land on a carrier with more than 4 Phoenix because of their weight.. 

Below;   IRIAF RIOs pictured during the Iraq war against Iran 1980-1988.

From right ' standing : Mohammad Ali Sal Afzoon , Mohammad Rostam Pour , Martyr Gholamreza Khorshidi , Hussien Nikanjam .
From right ' sitting : Rip.Gholamreza Bagheri , Mohammad Reza Fereydooni , Ibrahim Ansarin .

 Martyr Gholamreza Khorshidi died in a crash due to engine problem, during a routine training flying near of T.A.B-8 Isfahan .

During late 1981 Iranian Tomcats started to encounter new opponents. On the morning of 24 November 1981 north of Ahvaz, Khorshidi became the first IRIAF RIO  to pick up and lock-on and fire the first AIM-54A Phoenix missiles against a two ship formation of Iraqi Mirage F-1 EQ's. The first target was completely destroyed. This was the first confirmed shooting down of an Iraqi Mirage F-1 - according to one source  " the second Mirage was hit by splash parts from the leader's plane and was heavily damaged.." The second Mirage possibly failed to return home but a second kill was never confirmed.

The leader of the Iraqi Mirage F-1's ejected safely and was captured by Iranian ground forces near Ahvaz. He subsequently providing the Iranians with good intel on the combat capabilities of the Iraqi Mirage F.1s.  The F-14 pilot was the leading ace of the 'Persian Cat Riders' (now Ret.Gen.) Fazlollah Javidnia ( with 12 air to air kills, the most successful IRIAF F-14A Tomcat pilot with AIM-54's ).

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

26-29 November 2018 Ninth edition of the Kish International Air Show - Iranian Tomcats, F-4 Phantoms in action

The Ninth edition of the Kish International Air Show has recently taken place on the Persian Gulf island in southern Iran. This four-day event and exhibition is the most important showcase for Iran's aviation and aerospace industries and is held every two years. It is also the place to see the last F-14 Tomcats still in service anywhere.

Aircraft displaying included the F-14, F-4, KC 707 and 747 Tankers, MiG-29, L-39, Saeqeh (twin 'V-tailed' Northrop F-5 development/rebuild)  captured Iraqi Su-22 Fitters along with displays from the Russian Swifts and the Baltic Bees (L-39s)

..Two images via courtesy of the Aviationist blog. See link in side-bar. Below; still captured from Iranian TV news report

Liyu Wu photo on FB here

A single click to view the video

Paul Filmer Kish airshow photos at the Global Aviation resource site here

Why was the F-14 Tomcat withdrawn from US navy service? Quora opinion piece

by Arthur Hu

".....The decision to replace the Tomcat with the Super Hornet leaves many scratching their heads to this day. That said, the Tomcat was a product of the late 60s utilising the TF30 engines and AWG-9/Phoenix system of the failed F-111B. The result was a supersonic interceptor using the swinging version of the A-6 wing and landing gear. The F-111 was an unfortunate Frankenstein amalgamation of 'gee-whiz' features, some like afterburning turbofans which weren’t mature enough to work very well, and some like ejecting crew capsules, swing wings, and rotating pylons that nobody will be foolish enough to ever design into an airplane again after they went out of fashion. The USAF never had much use for the Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix which was similar to the missile that was meant for the Mach3 YF-12 interceptor variant which also needed to detect and zap bombers from 100 miles away, the USAF never had much success with any of the Falcon missiles which were used in the Delta Dagger and Delta Dart in internal missile bays. Those planes usually only fired in pairs so they only had 2 shots.

In actual combat situations the Phoenix was actually only fired in combat a couple a times, and by Iran at that. It was said that the “dogfight” mode button was the “eject Phoenix missile” buttons. One major advantage of the F-14 vs. the doomed F-111B is while it was a point design that could ONLY carry 6 long range Phoenix missiles that the F-14 was a complete superset of the F-4 - it could carry 4 Sparrows conformally and 4 Sidewinders, plus an internal M61 gatling 20mm gun plus any bomb load the Phantom could carry. The F-111 had a specification list hundreds of pages long, but it wasn’t until Mach 2 F-105 Thunderchiefs were completely humiliated by hit and run subsonic MiG-17s at Dragon Jaw bridge which were upgraded versions of the same MiG-15 so thoroughly trounced by the F-86 over Korea that both the Navy and USAF realized the F-111 would not be able to replace the Phantom in air combat roles. One Navy admiral remarked that all the thrust in Christendom would not make the F-111B a fighter. The Navy started with the idea of a VFAX that would handle dogfighting and bombing, but Grumman just built a VFAX that was big enough to carry the giant AWG-9 radar and heavy Phoenix missiles plus whatever the Phantom could haul.

But if you think the Hornet is from a more advanced era, the Hornet design was pretty much set in place about the same time frame, Northrop took the F-5 design, put in slightly bigger engines, and move the the wing top of the fuselage with twin tails, it was downized to produce the F-17, upsized to the F-18A/B which was somewhat smaller than a Phantom carrying just two Sparrows conformally.

The Super Hornet was proposed to address complaints that the Hornet was a great plane but didn’t have the range of a heavy fighter like the Phantom, Somewhere along the way, somebody had the brilliant idea of using it to replace the subsonic A-6 after the A-12 Dorito stealth plane program cracked up, and one more requirement added was replacing aging Tomcats. One issue was cost and complexity of the swing wing and older systems which cost more to maintain than the newer Hornet.

Two other factors according to one conspiracy theory is that the Mcdonnell Douglas lobby had more clout with the secretary of defense and managed to favor the Super Hornet and destroy all F-14 tooling to boot. Keeping the F-18 designation was a bit of a scam because you can’t just put on a bigger wing, by the time everything including the engine is upsized, pretty much nothing is in common in terms of parts, and it’s a completely new airplane, so it’s more like going from 1st generation to 2nd generation Taurus pretty much only the nameplate is the same and it looks similar. The old F3D had to be redesigned for another engine after the infamous J46 debacle. The original idea of the hornet was to get a plane cheaper and smaller than the F15 Eagle or Tomcat but loaded up it’s about the same weight as size as either plane plus it loses two conformal missle stations.

The downside to the Super Hornet is that it’s basically an upsized lawn dart with a small wing. In fact for all the people that laughed at the F-105 Thunderchief as the worst dogfighter in history, the Super Hornet loaded up is heavier with a wing the same size, but has much more thrust and same radar missile capability as the Phantom which the Thud lacked. It’s much dirtier, especially with “toed-out” pylons than the Tomcat which can also spread out wings for efficient cruise, or pull them back for supersonic cruise, and has wider wing-body effect so you get more lift than just your main wing loading which doesn’t count fuselage area might lead you to believe. Tomcat can carry 4 sparrows conformally in the tunnel between engines or tuck bombs back there and leave the wings COMPLETELY CLEAN WITH A FULL BOMBLOAD where the Super Hornet has to spread them out on numerous pylons across the wings. Depending on which accounts you choose to believe, the Tomcat is much faster and burns much less fuel, and I’ve never heard that the SH had the range to do missions to Afghanistan like the Bombcats did. The F-14 was actually never designed to be a point design like the f-111 which was ONLY a bomber in the A-model and ONLY a fighter in the B Navy, it was designed with hardpoints and avionics, and in Bomcat configuration pretty comparable to the F-111 bomber or Strike Eagle.

There are various arguments as to whether the Tomcat or Super Hornet is a better dogfighter but the F-14 with swing wings and blended wing/body is a very efficient platform across all speeds, and was the first swing wing plane to use wings forward with automatic sweep for dogfighting. The SH has a fixed relatively tiny lawn dart wing that is a compromise at all speeds. The SH loses the Phoenix but it was never really useful in combat, and weighs about the same as an attack bomb load, the Sparrow form factor AMRAAM provides similar active seeker capability where you can fire without having to actively paint the target with your radar with gives away your position and prevents you from turning around to get out of Dodge.

The Soviet Flanker was their answer to both the Eagle and Tomcat, actually a family with carrier and land based and even a FB-111-ski side by side seating bomber and our answer to that is currently the Super Hornet. The Fat Flanker replaces the swing-wing Fencer but keeps the side by side seating. The SH now performs pretty much every job except helo, Hawkeye radar or cargo delivery where in Vietnam you’d have A-4 an A7 light attack, A5 recon, A6 medium attack, A3 tanker, F8 daylight or F4 all weather fighter and A1 ground support attack all over the place and now everything is either a Hornet or Super Hornet. Eventually the F-35 could take over as the one plane that does everything but they’ll have to work out the bugs and expense. The other option if old Robert McNamara were still around would be to ask why the USAF Navy and Marines couldn’t all standardize on Super Hornets for new planes that work until the F-35 kinks are worked out. That’s what happened with everybody flew the F-4 for every mission. There is an enhanced super-duper Hornet which puts fuel in a conformal pack on top of the fuselage and has a pod which works like a weapons bay which can clean up some of the stores that would end up on a pylon, and the Navy is buying some of those gizmos...."

by Joe Duarte

"....In 1989, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (during the Bush Sr. administration) refused to procure any more F-14D aircraft. He dismissed the F-14 as “1960s technology”, which was arguably true – the contract was awarded in January of 1969, first flight was in 1970, and IOC was declared in 1973 (but don’t ever believe an IOC declaration). He also derided the F-14 as a “jobs program” (which is unfortunately true of a number of defense projects, like the F-35.).

So SecDef Cheney pretty much killed the F-14, though it took another 15 years or so to retire them completely.

Note also that in 1989 the Cold War was coming to an end, which likely factored into Cheney’s thinking. The F-14D variant was a pretty decent upgrade, but it was unlikely to see much combat.

The F-14 in general didn’t have much of a record of success. In its entire history, it never destroyed a single target with its flagship Phoenix long-range air-to-air missile. The handful of times it launched a Phoenix, it missed. (I'm ignoring the combat record of Iran’s F-14As and their Phoenix missiles in their war with Iraq, since credible data is unavailable.) In American service, all the F-14 ever did was shoot down two obsolete jets – a Libyan Su-22 and Mig-23 in a couple of engagements in the 1980s, plus an Iraqi Mi-8 Hip helicopter. And an F-14 somehow got shot down by an ancient Soviet SA-2 SAM in Iraq – maybe the ECM was defective or something (similarly confusing is how LCDR Scott Speicher's F/A-18C was shot down by an old R-40/AA-6 missile – war is full of mysteries).

The Tomcat didn’t have the stellar kill ratios of the F-15 or F-16. Granted, the F/A-18 family that replaced the Tomcat doesn’t have much of a track record either. The Navy hasn’t had top-tier fighters or attack aircraft in a long time, which could be a problem in the not too distant future. For ground attack, the A-6 Intruder was outstanding, and the A-6F was fantastic, but they never built it. A-6Fs would be great even today in uncontested airspace or supported by Growlers and such (and as A-10 Warthog replacements). For air combat, an F-23 tailored for the Navy would be a doomsday fighter, at least as good as the F-22. It’s faster and stealthier than the F-22, and that was true in the 1990s. They could do even better now, with the lower maintenance stealth coatings of the F-35 program, better sensors, tiny anti-missile missiles (think of something the size of a Stinger or smaller to take out incoming SAMs and AAMs), and other tweaks. (The Air Force chose the F-22 over the F-23 – in the 1991 ATF competition – not because it was better, but because of perceived project management issues, and possibly because the government was mad at Northrop at the time. The F-23 was the better fighter on most variables.)

To add to the cost of service argument, there was also the aircraft's role mission. The F-14 was built strictly as an air interceptor. Other words Air to Air combat only and the Navy had A-6’s to fulfill Its Air to Surface missions. When the F/A-18 (Fighter/Attack) came along it was designed to fulfill both roles. Which eventually fased out the A-6’s. The F-14 was retrofitted to perform ground attack but the plane was not designed with that specifically in mind. The F-14 and also the F-4 were amazing air to air planes. They were brutally fast and agile and did a great job at what they were designed to do. But technology eventually caught up with them and the F/A-18 was just more efficient at the job. Also there is another aspect which is maintenance. If you look on the flight deck now it’s pretty much just F/A -18’s, Helo’s and E-2 Hawkeyes. Hornets have taken over the E/A 6B, S-3 Viking and F-14 roles. Why..well it’s a lot easier to stock parts for one airframe than four. By the Hornet taking over multiple roles, there are that many less “different” parts they don’t have to keep in inventory. That is one of the main goals. One plane that does everything. The F/A-18 has now been fitted for Fighter/Attack, in flight refueling, electronic warfare and probably other platforms that used to take multiple different planes to cover...."

Russian MiG 31 'Foxhound' interceptor "Homeland watchdog" - Kinzhal, hypersonic missile

The MiG 31 was conceived as long-range Mach-3 interceptor capable of lengthy patrolling and destroying multiple targets including cruise missiles on the same sortie at "extreme ranges". Although not specifically designed in response to the F-14 Tomcat, developmental work began soon after the first appearance of the US type in 1972 according to Yefim Gordon - when the Cold War was at its coldest. Like the F-14 the MiG 31 carries long-range air-to-air missiles, efficient avionics and weapons-control systems, and, again like the F-14, well over 500 examples were manufactured.. The first prototype ('Blue 831' - Izdelye 83, aircraft No.1) was completed in mid-1975. Unlike the MiG-25, the MiG 31 features a two-man crew, the back-seater being a weapons systems officer to operate the Zaslon radar. Full-scale production in Gorkii began in 1979. Despite the loss of several aircraft during trials, the MiG-31 worked up a good reliability record in actual service. The aircraft possessed unique capabilities, being the world's first production interceptor fitted with a phased-array radar, the Zaslon S-800 Passive Electronically Scanned Array radar designed to track multiple low-flying targets. The radar was capable of detecting targets in the front and rear hemisphere over land and water, day and night in VFR and IFR conditions. It could track up to ten targets simultaneously and aim long range missiles at four targets at once. It originally had a range of 125 miles, which Russia has since upgraded multiple times.The MiG-31 needs about 3,900 feet to take off.

The tricycle landing gear featured novel twinwheel main bogies: the tandem mainwheels
did not have a common track (ie, the front wheels faced inboard and the rear ones outboard).
This enabled the bogie to rotate and fold into a remarkably small space during retraction while decreasing runway loading considerably, thus enabling the aircraft to operate from dirt and ice strips.

It has two Tumanski R-15BD-300 turbojets, which can bring the Foxhound to nearly 34,000 feet in eight minutes.

The MiG-31BM variant below features a Zaslon-M radar. It has a range of nearly 2000 miles, longer-range air-to-air missiles like the R-33S, and more.    

The MiG-31BM variant below features a Zaslon-M radar. It has a range of nearly 200 miles, longer-range air-to-air missiles like the R-33S, and more.

Russia also successfully test fired a Kh-47M2, or Kinzhal, hypersonic missile from the MiG-31BM in March, and is currently fitting the missile to the MiG-31K variant.
Moscow claims that the Kinzhal can hit speeds of up to Mach 10, has a range of 1,200 miles and are basically impossible to detect by modern air defense systems.
While many western analysts remain skeptical of the Kinzhal's capabilities, the missile appears to be an adaptation of the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile that flies at hypersonic speeds. The MiG-31 can also reach 65,000 feet in nearly nine minutes and even hit altitudes of 67,500 feet.
The MiG-31 can also reach 65,000 feet in nearly nine minutes and even hit altitudes of 67,500 feet.

The second layer of the atmosphere, the stratosphere, starts at 59,000 feet. It has a top speed of Mach 3 and can hit Mach 1.23 at low altitudes.

It has a top speed of Mach 3 and can hit Mach 1.23 at low altitudes.Russian Ministry of Defense
There have been a number of accounts of MiG-31 fighters catching the legendary high-altitude SR-71 US spy plane.

There have been multiple accounts of MiG-31 fighters chasing away SR-71s, the legendary high-altitude US spy plane.

A Russian pilot claimed he locked his missiles onto an SR-71 Blackbird during one incident, and six MiG-31 Foxhounds once cornered a Blackbird in another.
The Foxhound's main armament is the R-33 long-range missile, similar to the (obviously now retired from US service) F-14's AIM-54 Phoenix missile, and it can lock onto four targets at once.
The Foxhound's main armament is the R-33 long-range missile, similar to the F-14's AIM-51 Phoenix missile, and it can lock onto four targets at once.

It can carry four of the R-33 long-range missiles, two R-40TD-1 medium-range missiles, and four R-60MK short-range missiles. It also has a 9-A-768 23mm gun. The Mig-31DZ, a variant released in 1989, was the first MiG-31 able to refuel in midair.

" ...Imagine flying a plane so high that the world looks spherical and the sky is pitch-black. The Mikoyan Mig-31 fighter is the only jet plane in the world to make it possible to fly on the very edge of space.

With an incredible speed of 3,000 km/h, the Soviet-designed interceptor is the world’s fastest serving aircraft, and it can fly twice as high as a commercial flight. Travelling at more than twice the speed of sound, the MiG-31 can touch the stratosphere and breach what's known as the Armstrong limit. beyond which a pilot’s tears and saliva would boil without a pressure suit.

Even at such incredible heights, the MiG-31 can still deal with its enemies. The fighter is armed with long and short-range missiles that can be launched against high-speed targets.

At Khotilovo air base, RTD attempts to give viewers a first-hand experience of near-space travel aboard this unique aircraft by mounting cameras on the airframe and inside the cockpit. See what breaking the sound barrier looks like and why, despite being designed in the 1970s, the MiG-31 remains at the top of its game and unrivalled to this day.

The Mig-31DZ, a variant released in 1989, was the first MiG-31 able to refuel in midair.

The Foxhound needs about 2,600 feet to land.

A Russian MiG-31 landing and deploying parachutes.
 Russian Ministry of Defense
Moscow has about 252 MiG-31s and plans to construct some 100 MiG-31 BMs and MiG-31 BSMs by 2020. And while Mikoyan has plans for a MiG-31 successor, the MiG-41, the Foxhound will continue flying until at least 2030. The CEO of the Russian MiG corporation said in August that the MiG-41 "is not a mythical project" and that work on an experimental design for the fifth-generation interceptor will begin "in the immediate future." The same MiG corporation chief executive, Ilya Tarasenko, also made some wild claims about the MiG-41 in September 2017, saying it would fly in space, reach speeds of 2,800 mph, carry lasers, and more. Despite these predictions, the MiG-41, if it's even made, would not be ready for deployment until 2035 to 2040.

Text based on Yefim Gordon, and

Siebel Si 204 - ebay photo find #90

Sunday, 16 December 2018

RAAF Beaufighters - Australian War Memorial public domain footage

Activities of 5 Operational Training Unit (OTU), RAAF at Williamtown, NSW sometime after January 1945 can be seen in this Australian War Memorial footage.

Scenes include Beaufighters being serviced by Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF), armourers fitting rockets to underwing rails, aerial shots of Beaufighters in flight and firing rockets at sea. Portrait shots of RAAF pilots in front of and seated in aircraft. (Beaufighters A8-71, A8-75, A8-93 & A8-97 shown in this film were delivered to 5 OTU in January 1945. Information provided by RAAF Historical)

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A visit to the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Filton - pre-war colour film footage

A visit to the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Filton, just prior to the outbreak of WWII. Bristol's chief Test pilot Capt. C.F. Uwin...