Maverick where are you?

The photo was taken by a pilot of a French Air Force Mirage 2000-5F pilot during a training intercept on a Belgian Air Force F-16AM.

Most probably, the Belgian “Viper” did not react at all to the simulated attack by the French fighter jet belonging to the Groupe de Chasse 1/2 Cigognes (that posted the image on their Facebook page): every now and then, NATO and allied air forces take the opportunity to practice interception on military traffic transiting through their airspace of responsibility that agrees to be intercepted for training purposes.

Such close encounters terminate with the identification of the “zombie” and no simulated dogfight takes place, as the “enemy” plane is not involved in any exercise but is simply flying as a General Air Traffic.

Rooivalk in Christmas Day DRC action

For the second time since arriving in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the end of October, SAAF attack helicopters have been requested by the UN to attack rebel positions.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF-Nalu), an Islamist Ugandan rebel group, attacked FARDC (DRC army) positions at the border town of Kamango on 25 December at around 0500B. The rebels captured the town after brief clashes, resulting in civilian casualties and a massive displacement of civilian populations towards the Ugandan border.

FARDC thereafter requested the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) to respond to the repeated attacks by the ADF. Two South African Air Force (SAAF) Rooivalk attack helicopters were launched at 09h45 from Goma to Kamango to conduct an armed reconnaissance in accordance to MONUSCO’s Rules of Engagement.

Two Rooivalk helicopters were again launched at 15h50 and in a coordinated operation with FARDC troops on the ground, opened fire on an ADF held position. Later in the afternoon, FARDC confirmed that it had successfully taken over positions in Kamango and was in control of situation.
“South African helicopters in the UN intervention force were asked by FARDC to give them support to recapture Kamango,” said a senior UN MONUSCO officer who declined to be identified by name.
According to a MONUSCO spokesperson, FARDC has confirmed twelve fatal casualties (five FARDC and seven civilians) and thirteen injured (five FARDC and eight civilians) in the operations. MONUSCO were also supporting FARDC medical evacuations.
Three SAAF Rooivalk helicopters, belonging to 16 Squadron were airlifted to the DRC at the end of October, forming part of the aviation unit of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi’s soldiers are all part of the United Nations (UN) intervention brigade to bring the various rebel groups operating in the east of the DRC under control.
This is the Rooivalks’ first operational deployment and their first combat mission, in which they played a decisive factor in the surrender of the DRC M23 rebel group, occurred on 4 November.

India orders six additional C-130Js

New Delhi has finalised an order for an additional batch of six Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules tactical transports for the Indian air force. The letter of offer and acceptance was signed on 27 December, according to sources from the ministry of defence.

India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had cleared the procurement in September this year. The new C-130Js are to be acquired via the US government’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism, and the first aircraft are to be delivered within three years of the signing of the contract.

Configured for special mission operations, the aircraft will be part of the Eastern Air Command and are to be based out of Panagarh in India’s eastern state of West Bengal, catering for requirements in India’s northeast region and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The six C-130Js that were delivered by Lockheed Martin as part of a 2008 contract are all based at Hindan air force base near New Delhi and are flown by 77 Sqn.
The estimated $1.2 billion contract for the new aircraft includes six spare Rolls-Royce AE2100-D3 engines, eight ATK AN/AAR-47 missile warning systems, eight AAQ-22 Star SAFIRE III special operations suites by FLIR Systems, eight Rockwell Collins ARC-210 radios and 3,200 flare cartridges. BAE systems will provide eight AN/ALR-56M advanced radar warning receivers along with AN/ALE-47 counter-measures dispensing systems.
Indian air force C-130J tactical transports are configured for special mission roles and are fitted with an infrared detection set, enabling precision low-level flying, airdrops and landing in blackout conditions. The aircraft are also equipped with air-to-air refuelling capability and have been used extensively for humanitarian relief tasks, operating under austere field conditions.

Tejas Completes 500th sorties in 2013

India’s indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) completed 500 sorties in a year, achieving another milestone after attaining initial operational clearance last week.
According to a defence ministry release issued Saturday, 500 sorties by Tejas completed Friday, are the highest by the aircraft in a calendar year. The highest number of sorties attained earlier in a calendar year was below 300.

Avinash Chander, Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister A.K. Antony, congratulated the Tejas team and said the achievement was a result of synergy of various organisations, including the Aeronautical Development Agency, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and the Indian Air Force.

The release said 2013 has been exceptionally successful year for Tejas.
It said noteworthy accomplishments include in-flight relight (shutting off and then reigniting the single engine), high energy brake testing, flight envelope expansion, R73E missile firing with radar guidance, air-to-ground weapon tests, wet runway trials and demonstration of swing role capability.
Tejas, the lightest military jet in its class, got initial operational clearance on December 20, paving the way for its induction into the IAF.
The final operational clearance of the fighter plane is slated for December 2014.

2013 Chinese Air Force Review

In the year 2013 many of China’s new military aviation projects appeared, so it was very exciting for all the  followers of the PLAAF . Although there weren’t as many news coming out this year about J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters, many other projects really came out and took center stage.

Although we started see pictures of Y-20 performing low speed taxiing late last year, it did not make it’s maiden flight until late January of this year. The second Y-20 prototype made its maiden flight very recently. It looks like this program is progressing well so far. PLAAF is desperate for something like Y-20 to not only do the role of strategic transport but also as the platform for next generation AWACS (and other C4ISR roles), large aerial tanker and airborne laser platform. 
It has been forced to purchase a number of refurbished IL-76s from Russia in the past couple of years as a stop gap until Y-20 comes into service in 3 to 5 years. I think there is a chance that they will also purchase some new built IL-476 since the production rate for Y-20 is likely to be low in the beginning. In my opinion, this is the most important aviation project for PLA.
It has been a less eventful year for the 5th generation projects. Many of us expect the prototype 2003 to come out this year, but we were disappointed for most of the year (although there is some recent photo that indicate 2003 might be ready). It looks like major improvements are to be made in this third prototype, whereas the first 2 are probably more like technology demonstrators. 
J-31 has been making some more test flights, but it’s not known at the moment what exact role it will have for PLAAF. Similar to J-20, this first prototype is probably more like a technology demonstrator while 601 Institute works on creating a prototype that satisifies all of PLAAF requirements.
Flanker family
While rumours about Su-35 purchase continues unabated, we do know that J-15 project has moved to production stage this year. We are still waiting to see production version of J-15 to appear on CV-16. That will probably happen next year. It looks like J-16 project is also moving toward a first pre-production batch. 
J-11B/S production has continued this year, but will probably be replaced by J-16 very soon. At which point, J-15 will be produced for the naval aviation and J-16 will be for the air force. J-16 and J-10B are likely to be the main multirole fighters in PLAAF until the 5th generation aircraft enters service.
J-10 family
The production of J-10A finally came to close this year with the 7th batch. Most recently, we saw the last J-10A regiment with the 124th brigade. Earlier this year, we saw J-10A with the 12th division. The 124th brigade maybe all J-10As or a mix with J-10Bs. 
We now have 10 regiments (FTTC, 44th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 24th, 9th, 15th, 12th, 124th brigade) in service with PLAAF, 1 regiment (4th division 12th regiment) in service with PLANAF in addition to 12 in service with August first flight demonstration squad. That will total to over 300 single and twin-seated versions of J-10As, which is a very healthy production run. 
We have already seen the first production version of J-10B in the air fields of CAC, so they should join service next year. In many ways, J-10B’s flight tests lasted a lot longer (5 years) than all of us had estimated. 
That’s probably a combination of 611 Institute/132 factory devoting most of their resources to the J-20 project and the complexity of changes from J-10A to J-10B. It will be the first fighter jet in PLAAF to have AESA radar and a whole host of new generation avionics. 
J-10C or other fake?
There are rumours of a J-10C variant under development, but it’s unlikely to have anywhere near the level of changes from J-10A to J-10B. By that time, the production of both the hi (J-20) and lo (J-31) 5th generation fighter jet will both have already started.
Helicopter projects
Most recently, the much speculated Z-20 (the 10-ton general purpose helicopters) made its maiden flight. We can tell from the photos that it is heavily inspired (or cloned) from S-70 blackhawk series of helicopters. 
As shown with S-70 and NH-90, this class of helicopter can be used for a wide variety of roles for both the army and the navy. One would imagine Z-20 would be very popular in PLA too. It can replace Mi-17 and Z-8B in most of the transport and SAR roles, while serving as the primary SAR/ASW helicopter for medium sized PLAN surface combatants. 
The other project that will be very important is the Z-15 project. The first Chinese version using WZ-16 engine should be flying next year. Similar to Z-20, it should be a tremendous help for both the army and navy. It can replace many roles currently handled by the undersized Z-9 series of helicopter. 
Up to this point, the main problem with Chinese helicopter industry is the lack of helicopters between the 4-ton class Z-9 and the 13-ton class Z-8. Z-10 has now filled the space of 6-ton attack helicopter, but Z-15 and Z-20 will now fill the space of 7-ton and 10-ton helicopter to finally provide PLA with a full compliment of domestic helicopters.
Lijian UAV
Two major UAV projects took step forward this year. The first is the X-47B like Lijian (Sharp Sword) UCAV from 601 Institute and Hongdu. It had it’s maiden flight in November and really gives China a stealthy UCAV that can perform a variety of attacking roles. 
Going forward, much work needs to be done (like getting a new engine that fits the engine nozzle) to actually bring this into service, but looks like PLAAF is really putting a lot of resources in this area. The other major project is the “second generation” of Soaring Dragon. 
The first demonstrator version came out in 2011. After 2 years of relative inactivity, we saw it again this year with numerous modifications. It should eventually join PLAAF as a HALE UAV similar to RQ-4. 
Outside of these two developments, we also saw Wing Loong (similar to MQ-1 UCAV) joining service with PLAAF and numerous other UAV projects like CH-4 that are being developed for both export market and PLA.
We continue to see the H-6K bomber entering service with PLAAF this year. I don’t expect a large production run of this bomber, but it can serve as a bomb truck until a more advanced bomber (which is currently under development) comes into service. That is something I don’t expect until later this decade. 
After much speculation, we’ve finally seen the maiden flight of JH-7B recently. Contrary to earlier speculations, JH-7B has very few external modifications from JH-7A. The changes are the inclusion of a retractable IFR, strengthening of wing/fuselage to carry larger/heavier missiles and a new generation of avionics. JH-7B is likely to be developed for naval aviation since PLAAF is likely to purchase J-16 in the role of fighter-bomber.
As a whole, this has been a very busy year for Chinese military aviation. The appearances of Z-20, the second Y-20 and first JH-7B have been very exciting to PLAAF followers. At the same time, it’s great to see J-10B production finally starting. J-10B and J-16 should be the main fighter jet for PLAAF until the end of this decade. The biggest things to look for next year will be the changes in the third prototype of J-20, the appearance of a next generation bomber and the development of new UAVs.

Last B-52G eliminated under nuclear arms treaty

The last of the B-52Gs required to be dismantled under the new nuclear arms reduction treaty is no more. The Stratofortress, tail number 58-0224, was dismantled Dec. 19 at the Boneyard — the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

“What you see today will not be overly dramatic, but it is definitely historic,” said Col. Robert Lepper, commander of the 309th AMARG, at the event, according to the Armed Forces News Service.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, commonly known as New Start, required that the Air Force dismantle the bombers because their elimination limits the number of deployed strategic warheads, and the B-52Gs still counted as deployable in the boneyard. The treaty, which was effective Feb. 5, 2011, required the U.S. and Russia to limit deployable delivery vehicles to 700.
The bomber was dismantled by two engineers using a rescue saw to cut the tail off the fuselage, AFNS reported.
“Behind all the statistics were the dedicated troops and the aircrew that flew this airplane,” said, retired Gen. Earl O’Loughlin, a former commander of Air Force Logistics Center, now Air Force Materiel Command, according to AFNS. “This plane came into the inventory at a very strategic time. … It gave us a capability of long-range strike and gave us the true support that we needed for this country.”
The Air Force still flies 85 of the upgraded B-52Hs, which entered service in 1961. The G variant was used extensively in bombing campaigns in Vietnam, including the 1972 Operation Linebacker II campaigns, and flew 1,741 sorties during Operation Desert Storm.

Okinawa Approves Relocation of US Base In Japan

Japanese officials in Okinawa on Friday approved the long-stalled relocation of a controversial US military base, a breakthrough that could remove a running sore in relations between Tokyo and Washington.

More than 17 years after the two allies agreed to move the US Marines’ Futenma Air Station from a densely populated urban area, the local government has finally consented to a landfill that will enable new facilities to be built on the coast.

The agreement will burnish the credentials of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the US, possibly taking some of the sting out of American criticism of his provocative visit Thursday to a war shrine seen by China and Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism.
The issue has been deadlocked for years, with huge opposition to any new base among Okinawans fed up with playing host to an outsized share of the US military presence in Japan, and who want it moved off the island altogether.
Okinawa’s governor Hirokazu Nakaima, long a thorn in the central government’s side, this week met Abe, who pledged a big cash injection into the island’s economy every year until 2021.
He emerged from the meeting declaring himself impressed with the package on offer, which includes a pledge to work towards the shuttering of Futenma within five years, and on Friday gave it his formal seal of approval.
“The imminent issue for us on Okinawa is to remove the dangerous airbase from the heart of the town as soon as possible,” Nakaima told reporters.
“The prime minister is saying the government will work towards halting the Futenma operation within five years.”
Abe praised Nakaima for making a “courageous decision”, while Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the government “will do its utmost to relocate the base to Camp Schwab as quickly as possible”.
But the news provoked anger in Okinawa, where thousands of protesters surrounded the local government office, media reports said, with footage showing demonstrators holding banners reading: “Never bend”.
Several hundred had stormed the lobby of the building and were staging a sit-in protest, a government spokeswoman said.
The deal gives the go-ahead for landfill near Camp Schwab on the east of the island, one of a number of large tracts of land the US military uses. Two runways will be built atop the landfill.
Environmentalists say any development risks seriously damaging the coral reefs in the area as well as the delicate habitat of the dugong, a rare sea mammal.
Nakaima had been a bitter critic of the central government, which he says is unsympathetic to the southern tropical island and still treats it as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” of the US military, more than 40 years after it was handed back to Japan.
But at Wednesday’s meeting, the carrot of Abe’s stimulus pledge — at least 300 billion yen ($2.9 billion) every year until fiscal 2021 — proved persuasive for the governor of Japan’s poorest prefecture.
The US agreed to shut Futenma in 1996 partly in response to soaring anti-base feeling after the gang-rape the year before of a 12-year-old girl by three servicemen.
Its position in the middle of a built-up area also makes it less than ideal for the frequent flights by military aircraft.
However, resistance from local communities to any new site left the base in limbo, with Washington’s hopes for a resolution regularly frustrated by weak government in Tokyo.
Relations between the two capitals dropped precipitously after the 2009 election of prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, partly on a promise that he would turf the base out of Okinawa, much to the irritation of Washington policymakers.
His subsequent flip-flop left Okinawans furious and feeling betrayed, and cast a further cloud over the issue.
The deal Abe appears to have struck marks a significant achievement, and one that is expected to smooth relations after years of frustration.
Observers have pointed to the timing and Abe’s controversial visit Thursday to the Yasukuni war shrine, seen as a symbol in northeast Asia of 20th century Japan’s brutal imperialism, and said his negotiating methods owed more to his fondness for splurging money.
“Abe flashed big cash around to get the nod from the governor, which saved him some face in Washington,” said Tetsuro Kato, professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University.

Major Work to Replace Navy’s Super Hornet to Start in 2015

The U.S. Navy expects to undertake an analysis of alternatives (AoA) for its F/A-XX next-generation replacement for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet starting in fiscal year 2015.
The new aircraft and its associated “family of systems” would be expected to become operational around 2035.

“We’re doing study work right now to neck down what it is that we’re going to spend our money on in the analysis of alternatives,” Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told USNI News on Dec. 20.

“But at the beginning of fiscal year ’15, we will start that analysis of alternatives, which will then start the acquisition process to get an airplane in 2030.”
The Navy does not yet know what kind of aircraft the F/A-XX will be, but the service is working on defining exactly what capabilities it will need when the Super Hornet fleet starts to exhaust their 9,000-hour airframe lives around 2035.
“Right now our effort is take the F/A-18E/F off and list everything you lose,” Manazir said. “Now, how do you service that?”
For example, the Super Hornet is regularly used as a tanker. But if another jet like the Navy’s future Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft can fulfill that role—and sufficient numbers of that aircraft are procured—the F/A-XX would not be required perform the aerial refueling tanker mission.
Though the Navy does not yet have a concrete vision for what the F/A-XX might ultimately turn out to be, there are certain attributes the service must have.
“You have to have something that carries missiles, you have to have something that has enough power and cooling for directed energy weapons and you have to have something that has a weapons system that can sense the smallest radar cross-section targets,” Manazir said. The F/A-XX family of systems might also incorporate the use of cyber warfare capabilities at a tactical level.
The Navy would develop the F/A-XX having fully understood the capabilities the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter and UCLASS bring to the carrier air wing.
“We’re looking to replace the F/A-18E/F with an understanding already of what the F-35C has brought to the air wing, what the UCLASS mission set is,” Manazir said.
The Navy is working very closely with the U.S. Air Force—which is working on its own F-X replacement for the Lockheed F-22 Raptor–on developing the F/A-XX.
“We’re completely stitched together with the Air Force,” Manazir said. “We’re looking at joint capabilities and cooperative capabilities that would be the same in the airframe.”
The Air Force and Navy aircraft would share weapons and sensor technologies, even if they are different airframes. One particular area of close cooperation is aircraft propulsion where the two services are collaborating on advanced variable-cycle engine technology.
“We’re very cooperative on engine technology,” Manazir said. “Of course, they want to go long distances very fast, and so their airframe looks a little different from ours. We want to have those same attributes, but we have to get in on and off the carrier.”
But ultimately whatever the F/A-XX turns out to be, it will be designed defeat most dangerous of adversaries anywhere on the globe.
“We definitely need to maintain overmatch of the adversary by bringing those effects to the battlespace with whatever is on the aircraft carrier,” Manazir said.

Nepal To Buy 2 Military Transport Helicopters from Russia

The armed forces of Nepal have signed a deal with Russia’s state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport to buy two Mil Mi-17V-5 military transport helicopters, the Himalayan Times has reported.
The agreement was signed on December 19. The country’s government, which had earlier allocated more than $30 million for purchasing helicopters for the armed forces, approved the deal earlier this week.

A military source familiar with the deal confirmed the information on Saturday but gave no further comments.

The armed forces of Nepal, which have no separate air force, have previously bought three Russian-made Mil Mi-8 helicopters.
The Mi-17V-5 is part of the Mi-8/17 family, members of which are used by more than 80 countries. It is designed for utility cargo work and can carry up to 36 passengers or four tons. The machine features advanced multifunction cockpit displays and upgraded TV3-117VM engines.

After Series of Delays, Russia Launches New Soyuz Rocket

A new Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Plesetsk space center in northern Russia on Saturday after numerous delays earlier this week, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ministry said the launch took place at 16:30 Moscow time (12:30 GMT).
The rocket put into designated orbit a small research satellite built by students and young scientists. The new rocket, dubbed the Soyuz-2.1v, is to feature a completely reworked first stage powered by a NK-33 (14D15) rocket engine built by the NK Engines Company in the Russian city of Samara. 

The rocket lacks the characteristic four boosters that Soyuz and its ancestors have had since the R-7 missile that launched Sputnik in 1957.

The launch was originally scheduled for Monday and was delayed first until Tuesday and then until Wednesday due to concern over a possible malfunction of one of the rocket’s engines.
A Russian defense official, Colonel Dmitry Zenin, said later on Wednesday the launch was postponed again and will take place sometime next year.
A state commission that gathered on Saturday morning, decided to launch the rocket at 14:00, but it was also cancelled minutes before the planned blastoff.
The Soyuz, the most frequently launched rocket in the world, has undergone more than 1,700 launches since its debut in 1966. It is one of only two rockets worldwide that are capable of sending astronauts into orbit, the other being the Chinese Long March 2F.