The United Kingdom has declared its F-35B Lightning as operational. The current fleet of fifteen aircraft, however, still faces issues, such as availability, infrastructure, logistics and security. Declaring the aircraft fully operational is necessary to keep Royal Air Force front line operations straight up. The current issues will not hamper active flight operations too much. One such issue relates to the flight simulator.
Back in December 2018, the UK National Audit Office (NAO) reported that the December 2018 Initial Operating Capability (IOC) - only from land bases - was approved with some seventy exclusions. Over twenty of these were, up to February 2020, still unsolved. Currently, six exclusions remain. These are expected to be solved during 2020. One notable issue is the RAF/Royal Navy's inability to program its Lightning IIs with UK mission data independently from US involvement.
The RAF and RN have assigned their fifteen F-35Bs to 617sq and 207sq, both based at RAF Marham (UK). The squadrons deployed to RAF Akrotiri (Cyprus), Red Flag at Nellis (NV) and flew operational missions in support of Operation Shader / Inherent Resolve over Syria and Iraq. They have also deployed to HMS Queen Elizabeth for operational trails.
If true, this would be a weird development
A spokesman of the South Korean aircraft manufacturer Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) announced the US Air Force plans to rent a limited number of KAI T-50A trainer jets, until the first Boeing/Saab T-7A Red Hawks will be delivered in 2023. As known, the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle was one of the competitors within the T-X trainer contest, which the T-7A won. Boeing/Saab won the USD 9,2 billion contract for the delivery of 351 Red Hawks to the USAF as a replacement for the venerable Northrop T-38 Talon
Already in January 2020, the US General Services Administration posted the US Air Combat Command plans to contract Hillwood Aviation to provide four to eight Golden Eagles within a project named called the “RFX” programme. Within the contract, the T-50s will each be rented annually for about 4,500 flight hours/3,000 sorties/364 days, for a five-year period. This would help USAF aviators to develop relevant tactical skills before beginning their formal training with the Red Hawk.
Within that USAF training programme, it is possible that a lot of things could be changed in the future. USAF General Mike Holmes (Commander, Air Combat Command) reported that the T-7A’s modern capabilities offer a generational chance, not just to replace the sixty-year-old T-38 fleet, but also to revamp an eighty-year-old pilot-training system that, he says, produces too few pilots and emphasizes on the wrong skills. Holmes unveiled an ACC-led plan in 2019 to reshape the pipeline for fighter and bomber pilots. His “Project Reforge” with the RFX, (published by War on the Rocks online), proposes to eliminate Fighter Training Wings (FTW) and their Flight Training Squadrons (FTS) and mix advanced jet trainers like the T-7A within Tactical Fighter Wings.
The T-50s could be used as a try out for this Project Reforge.
On 20 March 2020, the US Navy's newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), completed its Flight Deck Certification (FDC) and Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) Certification. 'GRF' is now able to support Carrier Qualifications for fleet squadrons, but also other missions to support the US Navy's mission. The ship will be the only US carrier regularly available for CQs on the east coast through 2020.
The certification was reached after a two day period in open waters, off the coast of Virginia. F/A-18E/F Super Hornets from four different squadrons, all assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, conducted 123 day- and 42 night catapult launches and trap recoveries aboard Ford, along with a Precision Approach Landing Systems (PALS) certification event.
The certification comes a day after the Ford announced it had recovered its 1,000th aircraft with its Advanced Arrest Gear system and launched its 1,000th aircraft from the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults, only two and a half years after the first of each took place on 28 July 2017, as UNSI reports.
Part of the certification were all kinds of scenarios in which the carrier and pilots were asked to perform usual (busy) carrier operations. In one of these scenarios, CVW-8 aircraft were stacked up behind the carrier in two-mile separations; the usual landing pattern for seagoing operations. This required the Ford to trap aircraft just 55 seconds apart.
Since our last report in Scramble magazine, CVW-8 saw some changes within the Super Hornet community. The quartet now looks as follows
VFA-37 "Bulls", F/A-18E, 'AJ-1xx' (former 'AJ-4xx')
VFA-213 "Black Lions", F/A-18F, 'AJ-2xx'
VFA-97 "Warhawks", F/A-18E, 'AJ-3xx' (ex 'NG-3xx'/CVW-9)
VFA-34 "Blue Blasters", F/A-18E, 'AJ-4xx'
VFA-37 relieved VFA-31 "Tomcatters", which moved to CVW-11 as 'NH-2xx', currently embarked on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)
It is not clear yet which VAQ Growler squadron will be assigned to CVW-8, as VAQ-131 Lancers became 'NL-55x' within the Joint Expeditionary community.
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Latest: Typhoons, Super Hornets and Growlers for Germany
The Germany government is nearing its decision to procure up to 90 Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoons, 30 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets and 15 Boeing EA-18G Growlers. The F/A-18/F is important for the nuclear task as the Frankfurter Allgemeine reports.
The ageing Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Tornados fleet will be replaced from 2025 by the EF2000s as well as the Super Hornet. The latter will be procured as most probably dual seat aircraft only. Some of these, or maybe all will be EA-18Gs. A likewise F/A-18F and EA-18G mix we know from the Royal Australian Air Force.
This information is provided by internal plans of the German Ministry of Defense, which according to the newspaper is already extensively been discussed, at the political level and with industry representatives. The final approval for the plan is expected very soon. The announcement will be given by the German Minister of Defense, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
German political parties agreed for the dual Eurofighter / Super Hornet prurchase as it protects the European Aviation industry but also prevents that the Luftwaffe loses capabilities. As said in the Parliament: "The military needs of the Luftwaffe must be in the foreground when making the decision. Buying both proven and reliable models gives continuity to the Luftwaffe and its tasks. Both models can be procured on very short notice what saves money in keeping the Tornado alive. This solution would span the time to launch the Future Combat Air System (FCAS).”
The Luftwaffe reported that they currently have 234 combat aircraft, including 141 Eurofighters and 93 Tornado's. The Tornado, which was launched almost forty years ago, is intended for air raids, tactical aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare - but also for nuclear deterrence. 83 aircraft are in flight operation, and ten more aircraft are used for training on the ground and for technical defense tests. Some aircraft are able to carry the US thermonuclear B61 gravity bombs of which twenty are on the shelves at Büchel air base (Germany).
Germany is already working on the procurement for years, in which the F-35 was already dropped out of the competition. Two facts were very important for the German Parliament: first and second not making massive costs to keep the Tornado in the air and keep Airbus (and the European Aviation Industries) in Manching alive.
Thirty F/A-18s will be used for the nuclear task (the type is already certified for the B61), and fifteen will be bought as Growler. At least 78, but possibly ninety EF2000s will also replace some older EF2000 Tranch 1 aircraft, already in use with the Luftwaffe. These Tranch 1s could be sold to Finland, Switzerland and/or Spain. From 2040, the Super Hornet and Eurofighter fleet will be added with the FCAS that eventually will replace these fighters.
Indian Navy "Winged Stallion" sighted in Russia
Recently, Indian Navy's Il-38SD IN307/DAB was noted above the suburbs of Moscow conducting test-flights from Zhukovsky Airfield (also known as Ramenskoye Airport). The Il-38SD is operated by INAS315 "Winged Stallions" as a maritime patrol aircraft and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft.
The Ilyushins are based at Dabolim (hence the code carried) near Goa (India). The Naval Air Station is also known as INS Hansa. IN307 is thought to be the very last of five aircraft that is being overhauled and upgraded by the Ilyushin Aviation Complex at Zhukovsky. The iconic aircraft will be replaced by the P-8I Neptune (Indian Navy name for the Poseidon). Read our Scramble Magazine Facebook news item from 7 March 2020 *).
The Indian Il-38SD upgraded aircraft are provided, like their Russian Il-38N counterparts, with the Novella P-38 search-and-track system, the 'Sea Dragon' avionics suite, and a new radar and a Forward-Looking infrared (FLIR) turret under the nose.
Strikingly, at the end of April 2018, Il-38SD IN306/DAB, made a hard emergency landing due to a nose landing gear malfunction (it failed to release) at Zhukovsky. Having received minor damage, it is believed that the aircraft has been repaired since.
A Russian Federation - Aerospace Forces (RF VKS) Su-27 disappeared from the radar while flying over the Black Sea on 25 March 2020. The aircraft flew near the coast off Belbek, some fifty kilometres from Théodosie (Feodosia), at the south eastern point of the Crimea.
The Flanker was performing a routine training flight when it disappeared around 08.10 hrs (local time). The Russian Ministry of Defense sais the (Emergency Locator Beacon (ELT) is activated - possibly automatically, after an ejection. The pilot (and jet), it says, should be found soon.
A Search and Rescue mission started right away, with an An-26 and Mi-8 being dispatched from the Southern Military District emergency services. The search for the pilot is complicated by the bad weather conditions.
The Su-27 is possibly assigned to the 27th Composite Aviation Division, 38th Fighter Aviation Regiment (38 IAP) at Sevastopol'/Bel'bek' (Crimae). This unit operates Su-27/27UB, Su-27P/UP, Su-27SM and Su-30M2s. The 38 IAP is active over the Black Sea very frequently.
A second option is that the aircraft came from Krymsk air base (just north east of the Crimea), which is home to the 1st Guards Stalingrad Svirkskaya Composite Air Division, 3rd Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment (3 GvIAP). This unit has Su-27/27P, Su-27SM3, Su-27UB and Su-30M2.
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