F-15E Low Level in the Cascades

The two seat F-15E Strike Eagle (or Beagle as its often nicknamed) is the replacement for the F-111. The original F-15 design mantra was “not a pound for air to ground.” That is, the F-15 was to be a single purpose weapon, focusing solely on being the best air-to-air fighter in the world.

Ironically, many of the characteristics that made it such a successful air to air fighter would lend themselves to making the Strike Eagle a highly successful bomber. Good thrust to weight ratio, huge internal fuel capacity, excellent load capacity and structural strength, combined with modernized radar, special electro-optical sensors, and with reconfigured weapons racks make the F-15 one of the most potent tactical strike aircraft around.

This jet from the 366th Fighter Wing stationed at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho shows us the fun part of the job, flying through the VR-1335 low level route in the beautiful Cascade Mountains.

I’ve never seen the Strike Eagles doing this, but I did occasionally see F-111s and A-6s zipping through the mountains. It’s a heck of a sight.

If you prefer the unedited version with no music, click here.

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The VAQ Squadrons

The fielding of the EA-6B Prowler tactical jammer aircraft in 1970 brought about some significant changes to doctrine and organization in carrier air wings. Previously, electronic warfare was something of an odd duck in the air wing. Typically at that time, an air wing would have two squadrons of fighters, two of light attack, a medium attack squadron, and an airborne early warning squadron. The wing would also host some detachments of odds and ends, such as a couple of A-3 variants as electronic warfare support and tanker, a helo detachment for plane guard and utility use, and maybe a couple of reconnaissance planes.

The sophisticated Prowler, combined with the Navy’s growing recognition of the value of both standoff and escort jamming in the face of the North Vietnamese air defenses, led the Navy to organize Prowlers in squadrons of four aircraft. Each Prowler seats a crew of four, and as a planning factor, a squadron generally has 1.5 crews per plane, or roughly 24 flight crew. Of the Prowler crew, only one is an aviator. The other three were Naval Flight Officers known as ECMOs or Electronic CounterMeasures Officers. The Prowler community was one of the first where the NFO community was arguably more important than the aviators. After all, anyone could drive the bus, but the skills of the ECMOs were quite specialized. At any rate, with only four planes, a Prowler squadron would have more aircrew than a light attack squadron with 12 planes. These Prowler squadrons would be designated Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons (or TACELRONS) with the designator VAQ. For instance, the Fleet Replacement Squadron is VAQ-129.

It took several years for the Prowler to fully enter the fleet. While deployed aboard a carrier, a Prowler squadron would report to the commander of that carrier’s air wing. When in home port, the squadron reported to the Commander, Medium Attack/Tactical Electronic Warfare Wing, Pacific Fleet (or COMMATVAQWINGPAC) at NAS Whidbey Island, WA, where all the Navy’s active Prowler squadrons were based.

As the 70s and 80s wore on, the size of Naval Aviation varied somewhat, and so to did the size of the Prowler fleet. The Reagan era build up saw an expansion in the number of air wings, and so to the number of Prowler squadrons.

Concurrently, the Air Force, seeing the same challenges in a future air defense environment, looked to leave behind its legacy fleet of EB-57 and EB-66 stand off jammers, and integrate a modern, supersonic escort jammer. And so in the early 1970s, began a program to modify some early production F-111A Aardvarks to carry a version of the Prowler’s ALQ-99 jammer system.

Entering into service in 1983, a total of 42 were delivered to the Air Force by 1985, serving in five different squadrons. Officially nicknamed the Raven, the EF-111A was almost universally known instead as the Spark ‘Vark. The Spark ‘Vark served admirably, particularly in Desert Storm, providing the same jamming support Naval Aviation had come to count upon.

But soon after Desert Storm, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent so-called “peace dividend” drawdown, the Air Force made the decision to retire its F-111 fleet. And with that fleet gone, it was only a matter of time before supporting the EF-111A became prohibitively expensive.

Rather than spending the time and money to develop a replacement aircraft, the Air Force simply threw up its hands and said “we quit.” The Air Force simply forfeited what by now was known as the Electronic Attack mission.

But that didn’t mean the Air Force didn’t recognize the need for a dedicated Electronic Attack platform. Instead, it recognized that fielding its own platform was duplicative of costs. There was a perfectly good platform already in the Prowler. And in keeping with the Air Force ethos of central airpower management, the Air Force also didn’t see any reason why the Air Force should buy a platform already in service, duplicating the logistical tail involved.

Instead, the Air Force just decided the Navy would provide all its Electronic Attack assets in any future air campaign.

Now, the Navy didn’t really object to this. The only issues would be money for airframes and maintenance, and manpower to support such campaigns. After all, the Navy barely had enough Prowlers and crews to support its deploying carrier air wings. And there was no guarantee that a carrier air wing would be available to support any notional Air Force air campaign.

The Marines, operating their own Prowlers, quickly informed any and all that they were quite busy supporting Marine Air Wings and had no great desire to add any additional taskings, than you very much.

And so an odd hybrid series VAQ squadron was born. The Navy would buy extra Prowlers, and stand up the squadrons. The Air Force would not complain about Navy requests for funding for procurement and operations. Further, the Air Force would supply about half the personnel for the squadrons.

Known as Expeditionary squadrons, these VAQs would forego some of the training that traditional Navy VAQs went to, such as carrier qualification. Instead, these squadrons would be available to support taskings to a Combatant Command Air Component Commander.

With the retirement of the medium attack community COMMATVAQWINGPAC eventually evolved into Commander Electronic Attack Wing Pacific  or COMVAQWINGPAC (oddly, as there’s no counterpart on the Atlantic side.  COMVAQWINGPAC supports air wings in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, as well as all of what are now known as Joint Expeditionary Squadrons).

All the VAQ squadrons, both fleet and Joint Expeditionary, have either transitioned from the Prowler to the EA-18G Growler, or will shortly. In addition to the “schoolhouse” squadron, VAQ-129, VAQ-130 through VAQ-142 are currently stationed at NAS Whidbey. Additionally, VAQ-209, a Reserve squadron, is stationed at Whidbey. Three squadrons are currently Joint Expeditionary. Two new squadrons, VAQ-143 and VAQ-144 are expected to be established in the next couple years, and both with be Joint Expeditionary.

There’s one other interesting squadron at NAS Whidbey. Housing quite a few Air Force personnel at a Navy base is a tad unusual for those Airmen. There are quite a few things the Navy and the Air Force do differently. Where the rubber meets the road, most of the time, the integrated squadrons work well. But for certain personnel management issues, the Air Force needs its own on sight leadership. And so, to act as the parent command for Air Force personnel at Whidbey, the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron is stationed at NAS Whidbey. It’s not an operational squadron, and doesn’t own any planes. It serves instead as “ownership’’ of all the Air Force personnel.

 

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Not Your “Father’s Aegis”

The U.S. Navy’s first Aegis-equipped surface warship, the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), joined the Fleet in January 1983, and all-but dared the Soviet Navy to take its best anti-ship cruise-missile shot.

The Navy’s newest Aegis guided-missile destroyer in the fall 2014, the USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112), was commissioned in December 2012. Murphy is the Navy’s 102nd Aegis warship. Another 10 Aegis DDGs are under construction, under contract or planned––a remarkable achievement!

Aegis surface warships were conceived during the height of the Cold War to defend U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups from massed Soviet aircraft and anti-ship cruise missile attacks. With the early retirements/layups of as many as 16 of 27 Aegis cruisers (beginning with Ticonderoga’s decommissioning in September 2004), some observers characterize the Aegis Weapon System (AWS) as an old, legacy program, whose time has passed.

via Not Your “Father’s Aegis”.

The poster child for a successful procurement program, Aegis shows what tight programatic controls coupled with good engineering and a realistic objective can achieve. By beginning with a fundamentally sound foundation, the edifice that is the Aegis program can continue to build to greater heights.

Incremental improvements in hardware, software, and networking have steadily increased the capability of the Aegis system. And all this is possible because of the sound choices RADM Meyer made at the very beginning. A clear vision of the threat lead to a clear vision of the needed capability. A clear vision of the need, combined with a clear vision of the state of the art led to a program that has endured, and served well.

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The PJ Tatler » Bombshell: Email Proves that White House, DOJ Targeted Reporter Sharyl Attkisson

One of the documents provides smoking gun proof that the Obama White House and the Eric Holder Justice Department colluded to get CBS News to block reporter Sharyl Attkisson. Attkisson was one of the few mainstream media reporters who paid any attention to the deadly gun-running scandal.

In an email dated October 4, 2011, Attorney General Holder’s top press aide, Tracy Schmaler, called Attkisson “out of control.” Schmaler told White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz that he intended to call CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer to get the network to stop Attkisson.

Schultz replied, “Good. Her piece was really bad for the AG.”

via The PJ Tatler » Bombshell: Email Proves that White House, DOJ Targeted Reporter Sharyl Attkisson.

That the Obama administration is lawless and thuggish is no news.  But do note, Schmaler had reason to believe that CBS anchor Bob Schieffer was sufficiently in bed with the administration that DoJ could count on him to quash Attkisson, not because her reporting was wrong, but because it was unhelpful.

As Insty says, Job #2 is making sure you know what they want you to know. Job #1 is making sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know.

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The Missile Men of North Vietnam

Sa-2camo

S-75 Dvina, known to NATO as the SA-2 Guideline, surface to air missile showing off it’s stationary ground launcher.

The SA-2 Guideline was the bane of existence for US aircrews in the skies over North Vietnam. Air and Space has a very interesting article on the Vietnamese crews that crewed these weapons 40 years ago:

Nguyen Van Pheit joined the North Vietnamese military in 1960. Five years later, as a young lieutenant, he was sent to the Soviet Union along with about 1,000 of his countrymen for SA-2 training. For nine months, they studied and drilled 14 hours a day, seven days a week, learning enough Russian that many became conversant with their instructors. The Soviets regularly served them bacon. Used to a Vietnamese diet rich in rice and vegetables, Phiet initially found the meat unappetizing, but he eventually got used to it. The culmination of his training was launching SA-2s at two unmanned aircraft. Phiet and his crew nailed both of the targets and toasted their hits with champagne.

After graduating from missile school, Phiet was deployed to Hoa Binh Province, southwest of Hanoi, to work on the city’s outer ring of air defense. Like the other SA-2s deployed to defend the North, the six missiles assigned to Phiet were arrayed in a rough circle on mobile, truck-towed launchers, with each missile positioned about a mile from its control and support vehicles.

A typical SA-2 battery relied on a truck-mounted Spoon Rest acquisition radar unit, which provided target location data to a rudimentary computer, and Fan Song guidance radar, which aided in missile guidance as well as target acquisition. To operate each SA-2, a minimum of five primary crewmen, in addition to maintenance and other support personnel, were required: three radar operators, one controller, and a battery commander.

Interesting reading from men who were on the receiving end of American airpower.

What's it feel like to get shot at and missed by a SAM? Ask those guys.

What’s it feel like to get shot at and missed by a SAM? Ask those guys.

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The Landing Craft Infantry

Faced with the challenge of mounting a cross channel invasion from England to France, the US and Britain realized that small landing craft like the famed Higgins boat would be enough to land the very first assault echelons, but the need to very rapidly build up forces on the far shore would require something more substantial. The ideal craft would lift a reinforced rifle company, be capable of berthing and feeding them for about 48 hours, and be able to land them directly upon the far shore.  The result was the Landing Craft Infantry (Large).

The basic hull was 158 feet long, with a beam of 23 feet. Power was provided by two “Quad Pack” Detroit Diesel engines driving two shafts with reversible pitch propellers.  The Quad Pack was an interesting engine design. No diesel engine of suitable size and power was in production, so Detroit Diesel took four of their existing 6-71 engines, and coupled them to a shared driveshaft. The resulting 1704 cubic inch displacement engine would be used in multiple ships. The LCI(L) had a top speed of about 16 knots, and could maintain 15 knots. At a cruising speed of 8-10 knots, the ship had a range of about 4000 nautical miles, allowing it to self deploy from the US to Britain or to the distance Pacific. While it could self deploy, it could not embark troops for such a voyage.

Nine hundred twenty three LCI(L)s would be built in ten US yards. Two hundred eleven were transferred to the Royal Navy.  Over the course of the program, the design of the deckhouse and the internal arrangements were changed as a result of feedback from the fleet. Originally, two ramps one either side of the bow were used to disembark troops on the beach. First flight ships also had a low, square conning tower. Later ships had a higher, rounded “castle” conning tower with better visibility, and the final batches of ships replaced the ramps with a single ramp through double doors on the bow. These ships also had a larger deckhouse, allowing an increase in troop berthing from 180 to 210.

Original low deckhouse.

Modified deckhouse.

Bow ramp and full deckhouse.

The basic ship was also modified for a variety of roles, such as Flotilla leader, and most famously, gunboats.  The gunboat conversions were so successful that a further 130 ships were built specifically as gunboats, and known as the Landing Craft Support (Large).

Almost immediatley after the war, virtually the entire fleet of LCIs was decommissioned and disposed of. Most were scrapped, though a few were sent to foreign navies or bought by private parties. Today, there are a handful still around, including one in California, and one in Portland, Oregon, undergoing restoration to serve as a museum ship. And one of the volunteers at that example has produced a 42 minute guided tour of LCI-713.

The ship belongs to the non-profit Amphibious Forces Memorial Museum. The next time I head up there, I’m definitely going to have to visit.

Oh, and as an added bonus, there’s an operational 78’ PT boat in Portland as well. But we’ll save that for another post.

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Raytheon successfully demonstrates complex, integrated electronic warfare capabilities during prototype flight tests – Nov 19, 2014

Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN), in collaboration with the U.S. Navy, successfully demonstrated an end to end, first of its kind, integrated electronic attack system during flight tests at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in October.

via Raytheon successfully demonstrates complex, integrated electronic warfare capabilities during prototype flight tests – Nov 19, 2014.

For over 40 years, the premier US stand-off jammer has been the ALQ-99.  Of course, over time, it’s evolved somewhat. But it still has limitations, and is increasingly challenged to defeat newer threat radars.

And so, the NGJ, or Next Generation Jammer, has been in the works for some time.

You may have seen our post on the pending retirement of the EA-6B Prowler.  It and it’s replacement, the EA-18G Growler, currently carry the ALQ-99. Assuming development of the NGJ is successful, it will be integrated into the Growler.

Here’s an interesting little tidbit:

The advanced, first of its kind system consisted of an active electronically scanned array (AESA), an all-digital, open, scalable receiver and techniques generator and a self-powered pod mounted on the underside of a Gulfstream business jet.

When we see AESA mentioned, it’s usually discussing a radar. But, of course, since the point of NGJ is to jam radars, it makes sense to use a radar antenna, to some extent.  With an AESA, the jammer can electronically steer a beam of RF energy toward the threat emitter, instead of wasting power by transmitting in a wide sector.

H/T to Spill for finding the article.

 

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