Category Archives: Air Force

A Dirty Little Secret about the A-10

As usual, the emotions are running high surrounding the Air Force’s intent to retire the A-10 Warthog. Congress says no to Air Force plans. Air Force digs in its heels. Members of the Air Force sing its praises to Congress. Deputy Commander of Air Combat Command tries to shut that praise down:

A top U.S. Air Force general warned officers that praising the A-10 attack plane to lawmakers amounts to “treason,” according to a news report.

Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, was quoted as saying, “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it … anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” in a report published Thursday on The Arizona Daily Independent.

Obviously, that’s a pretty stupid thing for MG Post to say. You can read the rest of the story for the background and the PAO trying to unspin the General’s dumb statement.

But as usual, the comments section has something that gets mentioned every single time in the last 20 years the retirement of the A-10 has been discussed:

You can be sure he does not want these planes transferee to the Army, who would be glad to take them an use them for the next 20 years.

And therein lies a dirty little secret.

The Army would never try to take over the A-10 fleet.

In the midst of a drawdown that might see the Army slashed to as few as 420,000 active duty troops, there is simply no way the Army could find the warm bodies to fly the A-10, let alone maintain and support it. And it’s not just the operators at the tip of the spear. While the A-10 is capable of austere operations by Air Force standards, it would require investments in training and support equipment that the Army has no need for. For instance, the armament of the A-10 alone would require entire new career fields with associated training and personnel management costs.

The money and manpower requirements would come out of other Army programs (likely the attack helicopter community). And given that the Air Force, whether it has A-10s or not, will still be tasked to provide Close Air Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction, the Army would simply not see the costs to other priority Army programs as in any way justifying taking on a new role, let alone one with very old aircraft with increasing maintenance costs.

And no, the Marines don’t want it either.


Filed under Air Force

World War II Armor in the Balkans Wars of the 1990s

sherman balkans

The eight-plus years of bloody conflict in the Balkans that began with the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 and (more or less) ended with the Kumanovo Treaty of 1999 displayed for the world the lingering bitter ethnic and religious divides that made the fighting in both world wars so savage earlier in the century.  The 1980 death of Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito uncapped the regional tensions which led to the successful  independence movements in Slovenia and Croatia, and wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Kosovo.

The grim history of these events is replete with the age-old themes of conflict in that area of the world.  Atrocities, massacres, rape, savagery.  To which was added the feckless and ineffectual UN Protection Forces (UNPROFOR), arms embargoes, belated NATO participation, and a Europe once again largely unconcerned with a conflagration in the Balkans.

What is a curious aspect of these wars is the extent to which tanks and armored vehicles left over from World War II populated the battlefields of those wars.   In the post-World War II period and during the Cold War, Tito’s Yugoslavia was an officially “non-aligned” nation, and as a result was the recipient of both US and Soviet military aid.  This aid consisted of several hundred of the ubiquitous Soviet T-34 and US M4 Sherman tanks and M18 Hellcat tank destroyers, along with self-propelled guns, AFVs, and other implements.  Also, during the time when Yugoslavia seemed threatened by imminent Soviet invasion, nearly 30o 90mm-armed M36 Jackson tank destroyers were supplied by the United States.   The T-34 and M4 variants were late-war models, the T-34/85 and M4A3, respectively, the former carrying the 85mm D12 cannon, and the latter armed with the excellent long-barreled 76mm gun.

In the 1970s, Yugoslavia began to produce its own variant of the modern T-72 main battle tank, replacing the older T-54/55 in service.  It was thought that while some of the T-34/85s probably still existed in reserve, most of the American equipment was long since withdrawn from the inventory.  However, when the Balkan Wars began in 1991, and particularly after the so-called “Battle of the Barracks” that summer which led to the capture of large numbers of Yugoslavia National Army (JNA) tanks and heavy weapons by the Croatian independence forces, many of the old American and Soviet tanks and tank destroyers were employed by both sides.  This led to some very interesting images from the battlefields in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia.  And it was reported that at least one M36 was destroyed by a US F-16 strike before NATO air power forced dispersal and concealment of heavy weapons in the ample woodlands.

With a supply of replacement parts almost non-existent, many Shermans and Hellcats and Jacksons were cannibalized for spares, and some wildly improvisational local modifications were made.  This includes at least one M18 Hellcat with a Molotava truck engine replacing the US-made radial, and an M18 turret fitted to a T-55 hull.  (You can see both clearly in the images below.)  In addition, a considerable number of the M4s and M36s had their power packs swapped for Soviet T-54/55 engines, for which parts and fuel were relatively plentiful.

As ammunition grew scarce and keeping the ancient vehicles in operating order became nearly impossible, those veteran tanks of another age that were not destroyed (which was a considerable number) were retired from service.  The T-34s fared somewhat better.  By 2005, it was reported that virtually all of the American equipment was disposed of, and only a few T-34s remained in service.   With that, a number of M18 and M36 tank destroyers had been identified for purchase and restoration  by museums in the United States, and at least one has made it from the troubled region into American hands (featured in Season 1 of Tank Overhaul).

Here are some of the more interesting pictures from the battlefields of the Balkans, where, despite their age and obsolescence, many of the World War II-vintage tanks served their operators well, and were feared by opponents who did not have modern counter-mech weaponry.  (The photos that show tanks appearing to have an armored skirt are actually showing a hard rubber sheet, which was to protect against RPGs by prematurely detonating the warheads and dissipating the molten stream of metal.  This is reported to have actually worked to some extent, with some T-34/85s and Shermans surviving multiple strikes from RPG-7s.  I could find no corroboration of those reports.)
















Filed under Air Force, anthropology, armor, army, Around the web, Cold War, Defense, guns, history, logistics, Politics, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons

The “Backfire” and Project Slow Walker

TU-22M3s in flight.

TU-22M3s in flight.

The Tupelov TU-22M (NATO ASCC reporting name “Backfire”), was considered a large threat to the US Navy’s Carrier Battle Groups. The Backfire would travel in regiment size formations (approximately 20-24 aircraft) and launch its Kh-22 cruise missiles (NATO ASCC reporting name “Kitchen”) at CVBGs. The Backfire first appeared in 1976 and was specifically designed to attack targets in Europe and CVBGs. The Backfire did cause some controversy and there was a debate amongst various US intelligence agencies. By 1975, the SALT 2 talks were underway between the US and the USSR. The question was whether or not the Backfire was a tactical or strategic weapon. The Soviets contended that the Backfire was built to attack so-called “peripheral attack” missions, meaning attacks on targets in continental targets in Europe and Asia. The various intelligence agencies opined that the Backfire was a strategic weapon and designed to attack not only CVBGs and “peripheral” targets but also targets in the continental US. As such the various intelligence agencies disagreed on what the actual range of the Backfire was:

The first Backfire was spotted at a Soviet airfield by an American satellite in July 1970, nearly a year after it had first flown. It represented something of an enigma toAmerican intelligence analysts, for it was too big to be a tactical attack aircraft, but too small to be a heavy bomber. Over the next several years, as the aircraft entered production, American intelligence analysts collected information on the Backfire in every way possible, closely studying its planform and trying to determine its operating characteristics such as its top speed, fuel consumption, and range. The last variable was particularly important, for Air Force analysts estimated that the bomber had the range to reach the United States carrying a nuclear bomb.

In May 1975 the Air Force’s Foreign Technology Division produced an assessment of the “Backfire B” version which had replaced the rather limited A model. According to the Air Force, the Backfire B could carry two large missiles under each wing, but probably not a single missile because it would block the probable internal bomb bay. The Air Force also increased its calculation of the bomber’s supersonic drag and revised downwards its calculation of the bomber’s range, to a little over 4000 nautical miles. The analysts also concluded that when using afterburners, the aircraft’s two big Kuznetsov turbofan engines guzzled a lot of fuel. They predicted that although the aircraft could probably reach low supersonic speeds with external missiles attached, they could not carry the missiles for long at high speeds or launch them at supersonic speeds. In a National Intelligence Estimate in summer 1975, the CIA had calculated that the Backfire possessed intercontinental range and could strike targets within the United States. This was a significant finding, because the United States and Soviet Union were at the time considering negotiating limits on their strategic weapons, and if the Backfire could strike targets within the U.S., then it was an intercontinental strategic weapon.
But by fall 1976, the CIA’s Office of Weapons Intelligence revised some estimates of the Backfire’s performance. A Backfire B had been photographed over the Baltic Sea carrying an AS-4 missile on its centerline, confirming the CIA’s earlier suspicion that contrary to the Air Force’s assessment, it could mount a single ship-killing missile instead of the two hung under the wings seen on earlier aircraft. Naturally, the Backfire could fly farther with only one missile than with two. By the end of November the CIA made a more significant announcement—the agency determined that the Backfire lacked sufficient range to reach the continental United States. It could strike Alaska, but the CIA concluded that the Soviet Air Force primarily intended to use the Backfire to strike targets in Europe and the Middle East. In fact, the CIA eventually calculated the bomber’s range at approximately half of that calculated by the Air Force. This became an ongoing dispute between the Air Force and the CIA—another one of the perpetual arguments between the two organizations over the capabilities of various Soviet weapons systems. But as the CIA noted in its November 1976 report, the Soviet Union was deploying the bomber to bases in the western USSR, strongly implying that its targets were in Europe and the Middle East, not the United States.
Over the next several years the dispute raged within the U.S. government. The U.S. Air Force was unwilling to concede that the Backfire was not an intercontinental bomber. If it possessed a refueling capability (which appeared on later models), or was used on one-way suicide missions, it could still reach the United States. This soon became a major point of contention in Strategic Arms Limitation Talks started in 1977, and it was not really resolved until later. The Backfire was on many minds at the Pentagon at this time.

Recent Russian accounts indicate that the combat range of the TU-22M1 was 3,106 miles unrefuelled with a 3-ton payload and that the TU-22M2 was 3,169 miles and that combat radius was only 1,367 miles unrefuelled when carrying a single Kh-22. The range question for the Backfire is a complicated issue that dependent on many variables, including attack profile, weather, fuel/weapon payload combinations and many other factors. It turned out that the CIA’s estimate was pretty close at 3000 miles.

A Kh-22 cruise missile aboard a TU-22M2.

A Kh-22 cruise missile aboard a TU-22M2.

The primary role of the Backfire was to attack CVBGs with the Kh-22. Once CVBGs was found in the vast ocean, the Backfires would launch and try to overwhelm the battle groups defences by sheer numbers of Kh-22 (reminiscent of massed Japanese kamikaze attacks of the Pacific War). The solution for the US Navy was to detect the Backfires as early as possible and put F-14 Tomcats in position to attack those Backfires before they could launch their missiles.

How early could you detect Backfires launching? The DSP. First deployed in 1960, the Defence Support Program was designed to detect Soviet ICBM launches and large explosions from satellites. By the time DSP was being used it began to detect unusual infrared events in some areas on the Soviet Union:

DSP Satellite

A DSP Satellite

But soon after it entered service Aerospace Corporation scientists began detecting other heat targets, including surface to air missiles and ground explosions. The company’s scientists and engineers also began unusual infrared events. These infrared returns occurred over Soviet territory at regular intervals and traveled in relatively straight lines. They were clearly not ballistic missiles. The engineers analyzing the heat sources soon determined that they were originating at Soviet bomber bases, notably those that fielded Backfire bombers. For the next several years Aerospace Corporation scientists tried to interest the Air Force in studying this data
more closely and possibly using it as a source of intelligence. But the Air Force space
leadership was not interested.
By 1982 the company that made the DSP’s sensor, Aerojet-General, had also been trying for eight years to interest the Air Force in using DSP to warn U.S. naval forces that Backfire bombers were heading toward them. But the Air Force was uninterested, a fact that one independent observer theorized had more to do with a desire to preserve the DSP’s primary mission of strategic warning than reluctance to help the Navy. Aerojet then went to the U.S. Navy, which was more interested in tracking Backfires than the Air Force, and in 1983 a group of naval officers spent time at the DSP ground station in Australia to determine if the satellites could detect the Backfires during takeoff, or the launch of their AS-4 ship-killing cruise missiles. Aircraft targets looked different than ballistic missiles. They tended to travel at regular speeds in relatively straight lines
for several minutes, unlike ballistic missiles that accelerated as they climbed, curved in their flight paths, and then suddenly burned out. The aircraft tended to appear as “walking dots” on DSP sensor displays.
In spring 1983 the Air Force approved a Navy project to take advantage of the DSP capability to detect these “walking dots.” It was code-named SLOW WALKER. Starting in 1985 the Navy deployed a regular contingent to Australia to extract the data from the DSP satellite transmissions and then manually disseminate the information to the fleet. This was called the SLOW WALKER Reporting System, or SLWRS. By the late 1980s the Navy improved its SLOW WALKER capability to the point where the information was disseminated nearly instantaneously.

The US Navy had used the USAF’s DSP to detect Backfires at launch. A very interesting project that I never knew and an “outside the box” way to detect incoming Backfires. You can learn more about the Slow Walker, and some of the associated programs here.

Additional sources:

World Airpower Journal Volume 33


Filed under Air Force, Cold War, Defense, history

YGBSM! The Birth of the Wild Weasel.

On 24 July, 1965, a USAF F-4C Phantom operating over North Vietnam was shot down by an S-75 Dvina surface to air missile (SAM). More popularly known by its NATO reporting name SA-2 Guideline, the S-75 was deployed in batteries of six semi-mobile launchers arrayed around a RSNA-75 Fan Song tracking radar and a P-12 Spoon Rest acquisition radar.

US losses from Soviet supplied, Vietnamese operated SAMS quickly mounted. Efforts to avoid the SAMs forced pilots lower, well within the lethal envelope of cheaper, less sophisticated Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA).

That the USAF was caught off guard by the SA-2 is nothing short of mind boggling. The SA-2 had claimed its first victim as far back as 1957, when it destroyed a Republic of China operated RB-57D. Further, the US was fully aware that the SA-2 had shot down Gary Powers’ U-2 over Russia on 1 May 1960. Over five years later, however, USAF (and for that matter, USN) tactical aircraft had no Radar Homing and Warning systems installed. Indeed, little thought hade been given to countering the SAM threat, even as the US employed huge numbers of a very similar system, the Nike Ajax/Nike Hercules, which could have served as a very valid proxy.

The Air Force’s first response to the SAM threat was Operation Iron Hand, an attempt to hunt down and bomb the SAM sites. This was surpassingly difficult, as the radar vans were generally well camouflaged and the Vietnamese relocated the sites regularly.  Generally the only way to visually identify a SAM site was to spot the tell-tale cloud of dust from a launch. But by the time a coordinated attack could be planned (say, the next day) the SAM battery would likely have relocated. As an added bonus, a AAA ambush was often set at the now unoccupied SAM site.

The Air Force’s next response was a crash program to form and equip an elite cadre of fighter pil0ts and Electronic Warfare Officers specially equipped to hunt down the SAMs and attack them.

Yesterday (Dec. 22- XBrad) marked forty-nine years to the day since the first success of the Wild Weasel concept in the skies over North Vietnam. In honor of that accomplishment which established the foundation of the modern SEAD/DEAD mission, we bring you the story of the very first kill on a surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacement by two of the very first United States Air Force aviators to earn the Wild Weasel name.

These two videos (about 60 minutes total) show the evolution of the first 20 years of the Wild Weasel mission, that is, 1965 to 1985.

Needless to say, it has continued since then. With the retirement of the F-4G Wild Weasel Phantoms in the early 1990s, the Wild Weasel mission has fallen to HARM equipped F-16CJs equipped with the HARM Targeting System (HTS) pod, a very miniature version of the F-4Gs APR-47.

A broader look at the SEAD and DEAD mission would also include the EA-6B and EF-18G both as jammers, locators, and active HARM shooters. Indeed, that’s just a small slice of the pie that is the total effort to stymie any enemy air defense network. Electronic intelligence aircraft such as the EP-3E Aries II help build the enemy Order of Battle by sniffing out the types and numbers of enemy air defense assets, a general idea of their location, and the frequencies they operate on, as well as the general trends of how an opponent uses those assets.


When first told of their obviously dangerous mission of flying into the teeth of the SAM sites, the universal response was, “You Gotta Be Shittin’ Me!”


Filed under Air Force, history

The Problem With Attribution of Cyber Attacks


…is that it is all but impossible.  A skillful black hat can easily lead investigators down paths they want them to take, while obscuring the true origins of a network breach.  Mimicking attack vectors, using code associated with known hacking entities, even using language in the coding that points to known entities or countries, are common methods employed by those who wish to leave a false trail as to the origin of network attacks or exploits.  (Of course, the most dangerous of that lot can hide for months or years the fact that there has been any network exploit at all.)

There was much discussion in the office this week about the FBI’s announcement that they had what amounts to definitive proof that the DPRK had perpetrated the now-famous hacking of Sony Pictures.   I was definitely in a minority with my skepticism, for two reasons.  The first is that I have a very hard time believing anything coming out of a Federal agency in this Administration.  The Department of Justice, the IRS, the EPA, The State Department, Homeland Security, have all promulgated bald-faced lies to the American people, largely to cover up criminal and unconstitutional activity and/or the incompetence of those in charge.  The second is the rather unrealistic understanding the Federal Government (and DoD in particular) has of how the Internet works.  They THINK they know.  But they don’t.

Apparently, I am not alone in my skepticism.   From the Daily Beast:

So, malware found in the course of investigating the Sony hack bears “strong” similarities to malware found in other attacks attributed to North Korea.

This may be the case—but it is not remotely plausible evidence that this attack was therefore orchestrated by North Korea.

The FBI is likely referring to two pieces of malware in particular, Shamoon, which targeted companies in the oil and energy sectors and was discovered in August 2012, and DarkSeoul, which on June 25, 2013, hit South Korea (it was the 63rd anniversary of the start of the Korean War).

Even if these prior attacks were co-ordinated by North Korea—and plenty of security experts including me doubt that—the fact that the same piece of malware appeared in the Sony hack is far from being convincing evidence that the same hackers were responsible. The source code for the original “Shamoon” malware is widely known to have leaked. Just because two pieces of malware share a common ancestry, it obviously does not mean they share a common operator. Increasingly, criminals actually lease their malware from a group that guarantees their malware against detection. Banking malware and certain “crimeware” kits have been using this model for years.

So the first bit of evidence is weak.

But the second bit of evidence given by the FBI is even more flimsy:

“The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

What they are saying is that the Internet addresses found after the Sony Picture attack are “known” addresses that had previously been used by North Korea in other cyberattacks.

To cyber security experts, the naivety of this statement beggars belief. Note to the FBI: Just because a system with a particular IP address was used for cybercrime doesn’t mean that from now on every time you see that IP address you can link it to cybercrime. Plus, while sometimes IPs can be “permanent”, at other times IPs last just a few seconds.

Now, the FBI’s conclusions may be correct, and the DPRK may be officially or unofficially behind the breach.  But TDB raises some important points.  The DPRK can claim that a skilled hacker can make the evidence point back to them with little effort.  And indeed this is a correct assessment.  Why the Administration’s jump to blame the DPRK?   Perhaps, as the article states, it is yet another example of amplifying and manipulating an event (a good crisis not going to waste?) as justification for yet more government control via draconian regulation.

Blaming North Korea offers an easy way out for the many, many people who allowed this debacle to happen; from Sony Pictures management through to the security team that were defending Sony Picture’s network.

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that blaming North Korea is quite convenient for the FBI and the current U.S. administration. It’s the perfect excuse to push through whatever new, strong, cyber-laws they feel are appropriate, safe in the knowledge that an outraged public is fairly likely to support them.

I will be writing more about so-called “Net Neutrality” in the near future.  But be certain that the regulations proposed by the Obama Administration have little to do with true net neutrality (despite the rather infantile assertions of some) and much more to do with expanding the regulatory power of the Federal Government over the content of the internet.   With the mainstream news media either firmly behind the Far Left, or beholden to them for reasons other than intellectual agreement, trust in the Big News outlets is at an all-time low.  It is on the internet where the fabrications of both the Obama Administration and its lap-dog agents in the press are torn apart by people with facts and experience, and people like Holder and Hillary and entities like the NYT and MSNBC are shown to be liars.  So the assertion in the above citation is certainly plausible.  To some of us, it is at least as plausible as the FBI’s proclamations of incontrovertible evidence of North Korea’s guilt in the Sony breach.


Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, China, Defense, guns, history, marines, navy, obama, Politics, space, terrorism, Uncategorized

Air Force Weapons School invades Nevada

The Air Force Weapons School is actually something of a combination schoolhouse and think tank.

It’s the capstone course for the tactical employment of various platforms (with tracks for each, such as fighters, bombers, and in this case airlift).

But more than simply teaching tactics, it also uses its exercises to develop new tactics to defeat emerging threats.

The days of massed airdrops on a divisional scale may well be over. But the threat of an airdrop on a somewhat smaller scale is still  a useful option, and may indeed be called upon again, especially in a relatively benign air defense environment.

In this instance, the paratroopers of the 82nd are pretty much a token force, about one rifle company in size, but one suspects there was enough leadership present to bring back to home station the current thinking on planning and executing such a mission.


Filed under Air Force


Xbradtc a few months ago had posted about the TACTS pod. Along with TACTS another component of any tactical aircrew training is the CATM. CATMs, or Captive Air Training Missiles are designed to aerodynamically (in terms of weight and balance on the launch aircraft) and electronically simulate either an air-to-air or air-to-ground missile.

These training devices contain no warhead or propulsion but typically contain the appropriate electronics to simulate the missile. Visually they are distinguishable by the blue bands (in the US military anyway) around the diameter of the missile body.


Note the blue band around this CATM-9X.

CATMS provide aircrew with an electronic and visual reference to the missile’s WEZ (Weapons Engagement Zone) envelope and unlike the live weapons are reusable and safe (they don’t have a warhead).

CATMS come in all kinds of flavors to simulate both air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles:

CATM-65 Maverick

This is an CATM-65 which is the CATM version of the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile.


This is a CATM-120B which is the CATM version of the AIM-120B AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile). Note the missile’s fins and control surfaces are missing.













CATMs themselves contain the guidance sections of the respective missiles they simulate. The CATM-120B AMRAAM (right) contains the active seeker guidance section of the AIM-120 series air-to-air missiles. The CATM-65 Maverick (left) contains the TV or IIR (Imaging InfraRed) guidance section of the AGM-65 air-to-ground missile (depending on the variant of the Maverick). In the case of the Maverick, it should be pointed out that these guidance sections are interchangeable.

CATMS and TACTS pods are typical loadouts for Red Flag LFEs (Large Force Exercises).


An aggressor F-15A shows it’s typical Red Flag load of the TACTS pod (left) and CATM-9M (right).


This aggressor F-16C shows the typical loadout of a TACTS pod on the nearest wingtip and a CATM-9M on the far wingtip. Centerine is an electronics pod used to electronic simulate threat aircraft to radars.

This aggressor F-16C shows the typical loadout of a TACTS pod on the nearest wingtip and a CATM-9M on the far wingtip. Centerine is an electronics pod used to electronic simulate threat aircraft to radars.

CATMs are another tool of the trade used by US forces to train for war.

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Filed under Air Force, Defense, logistics, war, weapons