U.S. F-35Bs Make Combat Debut; UK Sea Trials Imminent - Lockheed Martin F-35Bs from the U.S. Marine Corps have attacked a Taliban target in a “ground clearance” operation in Afghanistan, according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. Although it was Israel that gave the Lightning II its combat debut over Syria, this late
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September 28, 2018
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U.S. F-35Bs Make Combat Debut; UK Sea Trials Imminent

Lockheed Martin F-35Bs from the U.S. Marine Corps have attacked a Taliban target in a “ground clearance” operation in Afghanistan, according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. Although it was Israel that gave the Lightning II its combat debut over Syria, this latest action represents the first time that U.S. F-35s have released weapons operationally.

The news was largely to be expected, as the assault carrier USS Essex and its F-35Bs recently moved into the Fifth Fleet operational area, having conducted a TACR (theater amphibious combat rehearsal) in the Gulf of Oman that exercised various U.S. Navy and Marine Corps elements training in joint operations. Read More

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U.S. Air Force Buying 84 MH-139s in $2.4 Billion Deal

Boeing and Leonardo have been selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) in a deal valued at $2.4 billion to provide up to 84 MH-139 helicopters, training devices, and support equipment to replace its aging fleet of Bell UH-1Ns. The Hueys are currently used to provide security at the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) bases and transport U.S. government and security forces. The MH-139s are scheduled to become operational beginning in 2021.

The MH-139 is based on the Leonardo AW-139. It will be assembled at Leonardo’s northeast Philadelphia plant, with additional components to be integrated into the aircraft at the Boeing Philadelphia facility in Ridley Township, Pennsylvania. Boeing will be the prime contractor. Read More

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Russia Modernizes Syrian Defenses in the Wake of Il-20 Shootdown

Russia will supply Syria with “the modern S-300 surface-to-air missile system” within two weeks, defense minister General Sergei Shoigu said in a televised broadcast on Monday, September 24, a week after 15 Russian personnel lost their lives when their Il-20 aircraft was accidentally shot down by a Syrian air defense battery. He added that the command and control centers of the Syrian Arab Army’s air defense arm will receive “automated control systems,” which so far “have never been delivered” to any of Moscow’s foreign clients. In the minister’s words, “This shall enable a centralized control over all means and equipment of the Syrian air defense system, as well as surveillance of the airspace over the country and timely targeting.” Most important, this will ensure that the Syrian military can correctly identify Russian aircraft flying in Syrian airspace.

In addition to re-equipping President Bashar Al-Assad’s army, Shoigu also announced additional measures concerning the Mediterranean waters off the Syrian province of Latakia, where the Russian expeditionary force is based. They include the suppression of satellite-aided navigation, onboard radars, and communication systems in use on “combat aircraft committing attacks on targets in the Syrian territory.” He explained that these measures are necessary “to cool down the hotheads” and deter actions that threaten the safety of Russian servicemen deployed in Syria. He promised additional steps “in accordance with the situation as events unfold.” Read More

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Boeing and Saab Secure T-X Contract

The long-awaited T-X contract to provide the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation advanced trainer has been won by Boeing and partner Saab, who offered a clean-sheet design of which two prototypes have been built. Boeing is the nominated prime contractor, with Saab the co-developer and risk-sharing partner.

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of years of unwavering focus by the Boeing and Saab team,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space, & Security. “It is a direct result of our joint investment in developing a system centered on the unique requirements of the U.S. Air Force. We expect T-X to be a franchise program for much of this century.” Read More

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Fighter Fleets in the Balkans Undergoing Renewal

The Balkans countries (a number of them belonging to NATO) are on the threshold of replacing their older fighters of Soviet/Russian design with newer, Western aircraft. Serbia alone, a Russian ally, has opted for more Russian-made aircraft, although the country recently ordered nine Airbus Helicopters H145M multi-purpose rotary-wing aircraft with the HForce weapons kit.

Another feature of the current state of affairs—at least in Romania and Serbia—is an effort to boost domestic aircraft industries by reviving the production of somewhat older indigenous light attack aircraft to be used either as advanced trainers or to upgrade them to fly missions such as close support/light attack. At the same time, these countries face difficulties in funding the procurement of new aircraft, and for converting pilots and ground personnel to fly and service the new, Western aircraft with their advanced avionics, weapon/fire control and electronic warfare systems, and the weapons themselves. There are also persistent servicing issues to resolve. Read More

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Royal Navy Bids Farewell to the Sea King

On September 26 three Westland Sea Kings from the Royal Navy undertook a ceremonial last flight after 49 years of service. The trio of 849 Naval Air Squadron Sea King ASaC7 helicopters took off from their home base at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall for a flight that took them for a fuel stop at RNAS Yeovilton and a flypast of the Yeovil factory where they were made, before landing at the HMS Sultan base in Gosport to await disposal. A fourth Sea King followed them by road.

The retirement of the last Sea King airborne surveillance and control aircraft leaves the Royal Navy with a surveillance capability gap. Nicknamed the “Bagger,” the ASac7 was a development of the initial AEW.Mk 2 airborne early warning variant that introduced a Thorn EMI (now Thales) Searchwater AEW radar. It was carried in an inflatable bag on a swiveling fuselage-side pylon. Introduced in 2002, the ASaC7 was a modernized version with Searchwater 2000 radar. Read More

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