Wednesday, April 27, 2022

E-7 "WEDGETAILS" will replace a portion of the E-3 AWACS fleet.


April 26, 2022 | By John A. Tirpak

The Air Force will buy some Boeing E-7A Wedgetails to replace a portion of its aging E-3 Sentry fleet, the service announced after evaluating two prototypes.

The Air Force “has decided to replace a portion” of the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) fleet with the E-7, the service said April 26, without disclosing how many it expects to procure. In its fiscal 2023 budget request, the Air Force asked Congress to let it retire 15 of its 31 Sentry aircraft, but a service spokesperson said not to assume those aircraft will be replaced on a one-for-one basis.

“That will be determined after the evaluation,” she said.

The fiscal 2023 budget proposal also included a request for $227 million in research, development, test, and evaluation for a “rapid prototype” example of the E-7, which, despite the description, will not be delivered until 2027. A second prototype will be requested in the fiscal 2024 budget, the service said—with a delivery date not disclosed. A “production decision” is to be made in fiscal 2025, well before the prototypes are even delivered.

The service said the savings obtained by divesting the E-3s will pay for acquiring their replacement.

“The E-7 system was developed by Australia for the Australian Defence Forces,” the Air Force said. “The unbreakable U.S. and Australia alliance and interoperability amongst the armed services enabled the Department of the Air Force to leverage this considerable investment and exceptional capability.”

The E-7 is “the only platform capable of meeting the requirements for the Defense Department’s tactical battle management, command and control, and moving target indication capabilities within the timeframe needed to replace the E-3,” the service said.

Air Force officials have previously said the Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye and the Saab Erieye, both turboprop-powered AWACS-type aircraft, lack the speed, altitude, and capability USAF needs for the mission.

Senior USAF leaders have expressed their interest in the E-7 for several years. Last October, Gen. Mark D. Kelly, head of Air Combat Command, said he wanted them in the inventory “two years ago.” Complimentary comments have been offered by Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. and Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach.

Due to its age, obsolete engines, and diminishing vendors, sustaining the E-3 fleet has become a “Herculean effort,” Kelly said, with mission capable rates dipping near 50 percent on “a 45-year-old airframe.”

Last October, the Air Force said it was entering a contract with Boeing to evaluate how the E-7, which was designed and optimized for the Royal Australian Air Force, could be adapted for USAF use.

Unlike the E-3, which uses an iconic rotating radome mounted ahead of its vertical tail, the Wedgetail uses an Active Electronically Scanned Array radar mounted in a blade-like structure on the back of a 737 airframe. Because it is digital, the blade antenna has a faster revisit time than the mechanical radome, which has some latency. It also requires less maintenance. The gaps at either end of the blade are filled in by sensors in an overhanging lip, called the “Top Hat.”

Australia, South Korea, Turkey, and the U.K. either have or plan to sign up to buy the E-7, but it would require different equipment and a different architecture to be compatible with USAF systems. Boeing has said it will supply an “open architecture” version of the E-7 to USAF, which would allow other companies to supply systems for the aircraft, but the existing version does not have this capability

Monday, April 25, 2022

USAF holds a "TOP GUN" for MQ-9 Reaper pilots.


  • Published 
  • By Capt. Stephen J. Collier
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Nearly 45 MQ-9 Reaper crews from across the United States entered Creech Air Force Base’s flight simulators April 6-7. And only one crew emerged on top.

Testing these remotely piloted aircraft pilots and sensor operators, exercise Reaper Smoke 2022 pitted dozens of aircrews against each other from more than 35 separate squadrons for the chance to be known throughout the RPA community as simply: the best.

Now in its third iteration, Reaper Smoke evaluates crews on a number of criteria, to include crew resource management, weapons precision, team coordination, and Airmanship. And according to Lt. Col. Brent, 17th Attack Squadron chief of Current Operations and mission commander for this year’s exercise, each criteria was specifically identified because of their critical importance to everyday, real-world mission requirements.

“Our Airmen executed a complex tactical plan with minimal time to prepare, by relying on core RPA skills necessary to execute our mission, anytime, anywhere,” Brent said. “Reaper Smoke embodies a variety of tactical requirements that RPA crews should be able to perform and will likely need to perform in a near-peer fight.”

To kick off the event, aircrews gaggled together at the base’s Owl’s Nest community center to hear opening remarks from visiting Brig. Gen. Stewart Hammons, Air Force director of RPA and Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities, and one of the service’s top RPA advocates. Hammons highlighted to the aircrews how important it was to continue honing their skills so they’re ready to answer the call from combatant commanders at any time. The notion resonated with Senior Airman Coby, an MQ-9 sensor operator with the 15th Attack Squadron “Pigeons”.

“I thought it was pretty fun,” said Coby on his involvement in Reaper Smoke. “We got to take a break from what our regular operations are at the squadron. When you look at the overall impact, it was very rewarding.”

Soon after, the crews circulated in and out of the base’s RPA simulator building. Each crew had loaded a pre-scripted mission for each to be graded equally on. This meant crews had to focus on operational planning prior to their missions, then had to perform as flawlessly as possible coordinating a simulated strike. Lastly, crews would be graded on the accuracy of their strike, with evaluators capturing scores behind the scenes.

And with a final score of 65 out of 160, this year’s Reaper Smoke top crew was Capt. Spencer and Tech. Sgt. Nick, representing the 138th Attack Squadron with the New York Air National Guard.

Reaper Smoke was also a bit of a reunion for many pilots and sensor operators, as crews from coast-to-coast interacted with one another, sharing stories and learning from each other along the way.

“I have seen people I went to (Initial Qualification Training) with at other squadrons who went to other bases,” Coby said. “In talking to them, it’s been crazy to hear about the different experiences we’ve already had in such a short amount of time.”

Commenting on the impact of the exercise, Hammons believes the Reaper Smoke exercise aims to accomplish three critical areas for the RPA community: hone skills, build camaraderie, and bring together RPA Airmen as a tightknit community.

“First and foremost, Reaper Smoke allows us to hone some of the tactical acumen our crews have that are inherent to their training programs. But then we have an opportunity to take that training to another level in a friendly competition event, and I believe competition builds a great deal of camaraderie,” Hammons explained. “You’re going to walk away meeting people in the RPA enterprise you’ve never worked with before. You’re going to have conversations about what one base is doing that no one else was tracking, and that’s exactly how we start building out advanced tactics, techniques and procedures. And third, it’s a way for the community to come together and celebrate our victories and our losses and figure out, as a community, just how to be better.”

Brent made it clear Reaper Smoke wasn’t just about being a tactical competition, it was about growing the RPA community.

“We want to keep growing our culture and our community. We want to keep making this a rewarding place for people to serve and excel,” he said. “The RPA Community is a privilege to be a part of and we want members to build authentic, sincere and genuine relationships with one another and to take care of each other.”

Next year’s Reaper Smoke competition is slated to take place in Syracuse, New York.

More mystery explosions in Russia.

A fire has erupted at a key Russian oil depot and a second military site near the Ukrainian border, Russian authorities said early Monday.

Social media accounts based in Russia’s Bryansk region shared footage of what they described as explosions and a fire at the Transneft-Druzhba depot. The state-run oil export company’s subsidiary runs one of the world’s longest oil pipelines from Russia to Europe.

Emergency services dispatched fire and rescue crews to the site at 2:00 a.m. Moscow time, the Emergencies Ministry’s regional branch said in a since-deleted statement.

It later told state-run news agencies there were no casualties and no plans to evacuate residents. Bryansk-based social media accounts showed thick clouds of smoke and emergency crews still arriving at the site after sunriseEmergency services told the RIA Novosti news agency that another site it declined to identify has also been engulfed in the fiState television later reported that the first location was a civilian facility housing 10,000 tons of fuel and the second a military site with 5,000 tons.

It was not immediately clear whether the fires less than 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border were related to the war in Ukraine. Bryansk serves as a logistics base for Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Are Ukranian Spec Ops forces causing havoc in Russia? Two fires near Moscow at strategic facilities may be an indicator.

(Reuters/various sources ) - Six people were killed on Thursday after a blaze broke out at a defense research institute in the Russian city of Tver about 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Moscow, Russian news agencies quoted local authorities as saying.

The authorities said 27 people had been injured. TASS news agency reported, citing emergency services, that at least 10 people were missing.

Footage from the scene circulating on Russian social media showed thick smoke and flames billowing from the institute's windows. There was no official word on what caused the fire.

The institute is engaged in aerospace research, including on a unified air defense system for the CIS bloc of former Soviet republics, according to the Russian defense ministry's website.

Just hours later a blaze broke out at Russia's largest chemical plant east of Moscow.
Huge plumes of smoke were seen enveloping the Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant late this afternoon.
The cause of the fire remains unknown. Almost 150 plant workers were reportedly evacuated.

The facility in Kineshma, east of Moscow produces more industrial solvents than any other in Russia.

It is less than 1,000km from the border with Ukraine.

Anti-Putin racecar driver Igor Sushko tweeted footage of the latest fire and wrote: 'This is the largest Russian manufacturer of chemical solvents. Located 250 miles EAST of Moscow.

'We are beginning to see a pattern develop.'

The Dmitrievsky blaze follows a deadly fire around lunchtime at a top secret Ministry of Defence research facility in Tver, west of the Russian capital.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Amid nuclear tensions Russia tests a new ICBM


MOSCOW — The Russian Defense Ministry reported the first launch of its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile. President Vladimir Putin said this weapon is unique and will make those who threaten Russia “think twice.”

The ministry said said the missile was launched Wednesday from the Plesetsk launch facility in northern Russia and its practice warheads hit designated targets at the Kura firing range on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Sarmat is a heavy missile, intended to replace the Soviet-made Voyevoda missile which was code-named Satan by the West. Putin and his officials said it’s capable of penetrating any prospective missile defense. 

Putin called this “a big, significant event” for Russia’s defense industry. He said the Sarmat will ensure Russia’s security from external threats and make those who, in the heat of frantic, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country, think twice.”

Russia relies on land-based ICBMs as the core of its nuclear deterrent, and is counting on the Sarmat for decades to come.

The U.S. has its own ICBMs, but postponed and then called off an intercontinental nuclear-capable missile test to avoid escalating tensions with Russia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Exercise Agile Tiger concludes - real world success for stealth aircraft.

By 2nd Lt. Kristi Stiles
509th Bomb Wing Public AffairsWHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. (AFNS) --

Whiteman Air Force Base concluded the first iteration of Exercise Agile Tiger, designed to improve joint warfighter lethality through high fidelity mission planning, execution and debrief.

The exercise enhanced participants’ ability to communicate, collaborate and operate together, ensuring unity of effort across the joint force.

Over the course of four days, 15 active duty, Reserve and National Guard units from across the Department of Defense collaborated in multiple DoD airspaces, made up of thousands of square miles, across the Midwest to train. Fighters, bombers, refuelers and other support units launched from six bases daily to engage in interoperability training missions.

Realistic interoperability training like Exercise Agile Tiger is critical for real-world success. As the first iteration, this exercise is an investment national defense.

“I’m pretty impressed with the team here for coming up with this on their own. This is the true definition of innovative Airmen: seeing the need for something and making it happen,” said Col. Daniel Diehl, 509th Bomb Wing commander. “By bringing all the different players here, we can see where the gaps and seams in our training are, how our Airmen need to innovate in order to win in the future, and take those lessons and start applying them.”

xercise Agile Tiger tests operational unpredictability through Agile Combat Employment concepts. Applying ACE concepts to training creates an adaptable, prepared joint force to credibly deter adversaries, assure allies and partners, and be prepared for tomorrow’s challenges.

“The operational environment is defined by new challenges and modern capabilities,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew Gebara, 8th Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander. “Our agile combat employment efforts provide on-call combat operations around the globe. Agile, back-to-basics training gets us to where we need to be. This exercise proves we are able to seamlessly integrate with other weapons systems in the field when called upon. We will remain always ready to compete, deter and win.”

A key objective of the exercise is to replicate and predict real-world scenarios. From mission conception to execution, including more units with varied capabilities allows for a higher degree of realism.

Operators and intelligence Airmen designed complex scenarios to mimic contested combat environments, both in the air and on the ground. A-10C Thunderbolt II, UH-60 Black Hawk and Joint Terminal Attack Controller units engaged in advanced survival, evasion, resistance, and escape scenarios. Pilots collaborated through high-fidelity mission planning, crafting their best attack plan. Once in the air, B-2 Spirits and F-35 Lightning IIs integrated with B-1 Lancers and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft for coordinated attacks including long-range stand-off munitions.

Throughout the exercise, on-going communication and operability is critical. The E-3 Sentry provided a real-time threat picture and coordination of the battlespace. Additionally, numerous air refueling wings across the nation ensured the mission capability of all aircraft by operating the KC-135 Stratotanker, the KC-46A Pegasus and a KC-10 Extender, staged out of Whiteman AFB.

Challenging the participants’ capabilities in simulated combat environments sparks innovative thinking, to increase their survivability and combat lethality. Exercise Agile Tiger demonstrates the greatest American combat advantage is not only our technology, but in our creative service members’ ability to adapt, work together, and overcome adversity … anytime, anywhere.

“It’s important for me as the wing commander to ensure that the B-2 maintains its competitive advantage for years to come,” Diehl said. “We are still the leading edge of the fight, as it needs to be. We are still making sure that we are the force that can fight tonight, and the more opportunity we provide to have realistic training scenarios ensures we can maintain that competitive advantage.”

Monday, April 18, 2022

Space X launches another classified NRO Spy Satellite

 NROL-85 was the 148th launch of the Falcon 9 and the rocket’s 14th mission of 2022

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite into orbit April 17 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. 


The payload, designated NROL-85, was the agency’s second mission of the year and the second orbital launch of 2022 from the Western Range.

The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East at 9:13 a.m. Eastern. After separation from the upper stage, the rocket’s first stage landed back at Landing Zone 4  about eight minutes after liftoff. This was the 114th booster successfully recovered by SpaceX.

NROL-85’s first stage previously flew NROL-87 in February. NROL-85 is the NRO’s first mission to reuse a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster. NROL-87 was the first NRO launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket intended to be reused for a future mission 

At the request of the NRO, SpaceX did not show any images of the rocket’s upper stage and ended the webcast after the first stage landed.

SpaceX received a contract from the U.S. Air Force in February 2019 to launch NROL-85 and NROL-87. SpaceX had previously launched NRO satellites under commercial contracts.

The NRO builds and operates classified U.S. government surveillance and intelligence satellites. NROL-85 is the 61st mission launched by the agency since its existence was disclosed in 1996.

This was the 148th launch of the Falcon 9 and the rocket’s 14th mission of 2022.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Was Putin's secret private special forces for hire "Wagner Group" responsible for the Bucha massacre?


The barbaric atrocities at Bucha were part of a deliberate Kremlin strategy carried out in part by the feared Wagner Group of mercenaries, intercepted Russian radio transmissions have revealed.

Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, has heard messages from Putin's forces discussing the brutal murder of civilians in the city of horrors outside Kyiv, which was recaptured by Ukraine over the weekend.

The transmissions have been linked to specific corpses seen in Bucha, with one soldier talking about how he and his colleagues shot dead someone on a bicycle, while another said: 'First question soldiers, then shoot them.'

The audio messages have been relayed to German parliament by the BND to further debunk baseless Kremlin claims that the bodies were staged by Ukraine after Russia withdrew from the city in a 'monstrous forgery', Spiegel reported. 

The wiretap recordings also show that the Wagner Group was present in the city and played 'a key role' in the massacre, and that there are likely similar scenes of slaughter elsewhere in the country.

The shadowy military company which has been linked to a string of killings, rapes and war crimes around the world is known as Putin's private army which carries out his dirty work at an arm's length from the state. 

Meanwhile, also in Ukraine, Russia has completed the pullout of 24,000 troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv in preparation for an expected major offensive in the Donbas, where civilians have been told it is their 'last chance' to flee before the onslaught.

Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv in the east are now seeing the worst of the fighting following the Russian withdrawal from the center, while Mariupol remains under siege with 170,000 still trapped in the besieged city where the civilian death toll has risen to 5,000, including 210 children, the mayor said.

The BND recordings from Bucha indicate the atrocities were neither accidental nor carried out by individual out-of-control soldiers.

Messages show the troops regularly discussed the potential war crimes as if they were talking about their everyday lives.

The BND told German leaders this shows how the killings were normalised and part of a deliberate strategy intended to sow fear and terror among the civilian population.

Further recordings are being analysed by intelligence chiefs 'with great concern' which have not yet been pinpointed to a specific place in Ukraine.

But they indicate crime scenes similar to Bucha in other cities across the country, particularly around Mariupol which remains under heavy bombardment.

The new evidence has prompted two former German government ministers to submit a criminal complaint with federal prosecutors seeking the opening of a war crimes probe against Russian officials including Putin.

Former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and former Interior Minister Gerhart Baum said they want to use German laws allowing prosecution of serious crimes committed abroad to bring to justice those they consider responsible for atrocities in Ukraine.

Germany's application of the rule of 'universal jurisdiction' led to the first conviction of a senior Syrian official for crimes against humanity earlier this year.

Lawyer Nikolaos Gazeas, who compiled the 140-page criminal complaint on their behalf, said it targets not just the Russian leadership of President Putin and the 32 members of his security council, but also 'a whole series of members of the Russian military.' 

While prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have also launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine, Gazeas said parallel probes in multiple jurisdictions made sense and could be mutually reinforcing.

'The law is a weapon in this situation,' said Baum, 'and we want to use it.'

Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of least 410 civilians have been found in towns around Kyiv, victims of what Volodymyr Zelensky said was a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture.

Local officials say more than 300 people were killed in Bucha alone, and around 50 of them were executed. 

Some victims had apparently been shot at close range and others were found with their hands bound.

Zelensky has accused Russia of interfering with an international investigation into possible war crimes by removing the bodies and trying to hide other evidence in Bucha.

'We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead people, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and cellars of territory they occupied,' he said during his latest video address. 

'This is only an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.' 

Survivors from the month-long occupation have started to describe their gruesome treatment at the hands of Putin's invading troops after the area was liberated.

Mykola, a 53-year-old resident, spent a month hiding in the cold and dark cellar of his apartment building with his wife after witnessing callous executions on the streets of his hometown.

He told ABC that when the Russians arrived, they killed all men aged under 50 and then ordered him to bury his friends within 20 minutes. 

Two of his friends were shot in front of him and another was hit by a grenade, blowing his body to pieces, which lay untouched for days until Mykola was allowed to quickly gather his parts in a bag and bury them in a shallow grave to ward off the dogs. 

Vanya Skyba told The Economist how Russians rounded up a group of builders, ordered them to strip naked and lie face down on the floor while their bodies and phones were searched for evidence of military tattoos or anti-Russian sentiment.

One of the men was killed as an example to make the group talk, forcing one of the men to admit he had been a member of Ukraine's territorial defence who had served in the Donbas, prompting the Kremlin thugs to execute him too.

The others were beaten and tortured until an order to kill was issued by a Russian saying: 'F***ing do them in.'

They were led to the side of the building and each shot, and Skyba took a bullet in the side which went through his body. He played dead on the concrete floor until he heard silence when he fled over a fence to a nearby home.

He was later found there by Russians from a different unit who believed his cover story he was the owner of the home, but they led him back to the cellar where he had been shot where he sheltered with a dozens woman and children until they were freed.

After the savage killings, locals said Putin's army occupied the dead civilians' homes, drinking their alcohol, partying and stealing their belongings. 

Volodymyr Abramov, 72, was dragged from his home along with his daughter Iryna, 48, and her husband Oleg, 40, after they smashed through his front gates, opened fire and threw a grenade inside the building.

As he tried to put out the flames with a small fire extinguisher, he shouted for Oleg to come and help before a Russian soldier menacingly told him: 'Oleg will not help you anymore.'

Volodymyr's son-in-law had been forced to kneel and was shot in the head at point blank range without even asking him a question, Iryna said.

She told the BBC: 'They didn't ask anything or say anything, they just killed him. They only told him to take off his shirt, kneel down, and they shot him.'

Iryna found the soldiers calmly drinking water next to his disfigured corpse after the shooting, and Oleg's body remained there for a month before it was safe for the family to return from a relative's house nearby. 

Yuriy Nechyporenko, 14, and his lawyer father Ruslan, 49, were cycling to the city's administration building on March 17 to receive aid when they were stopped by a Russian soldier.

Yuriy told the BBC: 'We told them that we weren't carrying any weapons and that we didn't pose any danger.

'Then my father turned his head my way, and that's when he got shot… He was shot twice in the chest, right where the heart is. Then he fell.'

The teenager was then shot in the hand causing him to fall to the ground where he was then shot in the arm. A third shot rang out, aiming for his head but the bullet went through his hood, and once the Russian left, he was able to get up and run.  

Vladislav Kozlovsky, who returned to Bucha at the outbreak of war to care for his mother and grandmother, told The Telegraph how two men he knew had tried to escape through an abandoned glass factory but were found by the Russians. One was shot in the back of the head. The other had his cheek cut out before being shot in the heart. 

Volodymyr Pilhutskyi, another Bucha resident, recounted how his neighbour was taken away by Russian troops because he was wearing military-style trousers which were deemed 'suspicious'. He was tortured and killed, Mr Pilhutskyi said, with burn marks from a flamethrower found on his body. 

Ukrainian armed forces said they uncovered a Russian torture chamber, located inside a children's hospital that was also being used as a makeshift barracks.   

Visiting the region on Monday, a shattered Zelensky denounced what he called 'genocide' by Russian forces, adding that 'we know of thousands of people killed and tortured, with severed limbs, raped women and murdered children … dead people have been found in barrels, basements, strangled, tortured.' 

The Kremlin has denied any civilian killings, claiming the images emerging from Bucha are fakes produced by Ukrainian forces, or that the deaths occurred after Russian soldiers pulled out.

At a UN Security Council meeting, Moscow's ambassador rejected Zelensky's claims, saying the 'ungrounded accusations... are not confirmed by any eyewitnesses'.

But satellite photos taken while Bucha was still under Moscow's control show what appear to be bodies lying in streets where the dead were later found by Ukrainian forces and seen by journalists.

And multiple Bucha residents told AFP they had seen Russian soldiers killing civilians.

'Right in front of my eyes, they fired on a man who was going to get food at the supermarket,' said 43-year-old Olena, who declined to give her family name.

During a grim cleanup, the remains of partially burned bodies in black bags were lifted into a van, with officials telling journalists 'dozens of bodies' remained in apartments and in nearby woods.

Bucha first came under attack by Russian forces trying to push into Kyiv in the early days of the war, and was the scene of fierce fighting that left streets filled with the charred husks of dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles - as well as the bodies of their crew.

The city was fully under Russian control by early March and endured occupation by Putin's men until last week when troops began withdrawing, having failed in their aim to assault the Ukrainian capital. 

Over the weekend, Kyiv's men moved in to reclaim the region. It was during this time that the stories began to emerge.



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