Alenia G-222VS In 1981 the Italian electronics firm Elettronica completed the conversion of a single Alenia G-222 light turboprop transport (c/n 4012 serial MM62107) into a specialised Comint and Elint platform for Sigint missions. The completed aircraft was designated G-222VS (Versione Speciale) and entered service with 71 Gruppo of 14 Stormo based at Pratica di Mare, near Rome.
Up to 8 mission operator workstations are provided in the fuselage the operators work for the Gruppo Analisi Elaborazioin Speciali (GRAES), the Analysis and Special Processing Squadron, which is also collocated on the base. Alenia G-222VS
Very little is known about the operation of this aircraft other than it usually only participates in operations which are in the interests of Italian national security. It is understood that in the past the aircraft has usually been targeted against the former republic of Yugoslavia and Libya. However, it was also used extensively during the Kosovo crisis. It is planned to replace the G-222VS with 2 converted C-130J aircraft sometime between 2005-6.
Development of the AMX started in 1978 when Aeritalia (now Alenia) and Aermacchi joined forces to develop an advanced strike/reconnaissance aircraft for the Italian Air Force. The programme gathered momentum when the Brazilian company Embraer joined the 2 Italian companies in 1980 and a common specification was agreed. The aircraft is powered by a single RR 168 Spey turbofan built under licence developing just over 11,000 lb st thrust.
The initial order of 266 aircraft was made up of 79 aircraft for Brazil and 187 for Italy together with a number of prototypes. The aircraft's maiden flight took place in May 1984 in Italy and the aircraft entered service with the Italian and Brazilian air forces in 1989. By mid-1993 over 70 AMX's had been delivered to the Italian Air Force where they equip 5 attack/recce squadrons with 3 wings comprising 2, 3 and 51 Stormi. When tasked for recconnaissance duties the aircraft often carry the Orpheus recce pod.
Like the Lockheed C-130, this four-engined military transport aircraft has been the basis for a wide range of special variants, mainly devoted to SIGINT, COMINT and ECM activity. Cub-A aircraft were sometimes equipped with large SLAR to the port side of the front fuselage. Cub-B aircraft were usually dedicated for SIGINT/COMINT operations.
Equipped with various aerials and radomes under fuselage, versions of these aircraft were flown in civil and military markings by the Soviet Union, various Warsaw Pact countries and certain Arab states, notably Syria.
The Russian Air Force no longer operates the An-12 in the SIGINT role. However, China has license-built a large number of these aircraft as the Shaanxi Y-8. Around eight Y-8X aircraft, equipped with western navigational avionics, are used by the PLN Naval Aviation for essentially maritime patrol duties. However, the aircraft also carry optical and IR camera and are used to monitor activity around China's land and sea borders.
It is understood that China has also adapted two Y-8J aircraft into an interim AEW fit. Exactly what equipment the aircraft carry is still open to debate. Some believe that they carry a modified RACAL Searchwater/Skymaster surveillance radar, eight sets of which were sold to China in 1996 on the understanding they would equip the SH-5 ASW flying boat. On the other hand some speculate that one Y-8J is equipped with a GEC-Marconi Argus 2000 radar, originally intended for an undelivered Il-76, and is being evaluated as a potential replacement for the Israeli Phalcon AEW system after its sale to China was blocked by the USA.
It has also been reported that China is developing another AWACS varient of the Y-8 using an electronically scanned phased array radar mounted in a fairing above the fuselage, similar to the SAAB 340 AEW&C Argus - given China's past record on 'cloning' stolen western technology, perhaps SAAB might like to check if any of their files have gone missing!
Since the late 1980s the Czech Republic has operated a single Antonov An-26 Curl on ELINT duties. The aircraft (Ser No 3209) was given the designation Z-1 (Zastavba 1) indicating the special equipment carried on board and was converted at the Trencin Repair Factory in what is now Slovakia.
Externally the aircraft can be distinguished by two large bulbous antennae at the mid-fuselage point and various other antennae underneath the fuselage. The aircraft is operated by 6 Zakladna Dopravneho Letectva from Prague-Kbely airfield.
Designed as a photo reconnaissance aircraft for both civilian and military use, the Antonov An-30 Clank was used for many years by various Warsaw Pact and Soviet forces. Recently a number of these aircraft have been modified for COMINT/ELINT duties over Chechnya.
Even before the war ended some of the RAF’s strategic photo-reconnaissance aircraft began survey operations on behalf of the Colonial Office. Six Lancaster bombers were converted into Lancaster PR1 photo-reconnaissance aircraft by having their gun turrets removed and fared over. The converted aircraft were fitted with the F49 camera, designed for air survey work of fine definition. The large F49 camera had a 20-inch lens and when loaded with film weighed almost 87 pounds. The camera could be operated electrically or manually and the magazine held 200 exposures of 9 inch by 9 inch film.
Alongside Mosquito PR34 and Anson C19 aircraft, Lancaster PR1’s were utilised to carry out photographic surveys of various African and Middle Eastern countries, parts of which had not been accurately mapped. Between Oct 1946 and Dec 1953, 82 Sqn carried out surveys over Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, the Gambia and Kenya. Lancaster PR1 aircraft of 683 Sqn also conducted photographic surveys over various Arabian and African states. These surveys were normally conducted with the full knowledge of the country involved and enabled the country concerned to be accurately mapped by the Ordnance Survey.
The Avro Lincoln, a development of the Lancaster bomber, entered service just after the war and was originally designed for operations in the Far East against Japan. The Lincoln was the last piston-engined bomber to see active service in the RAF and, although it had a very long range, it was slow (290 mph) and had a low operational ceiling (22,000 ft). However, with the end of hostilities, the need to gather intelligence against a growing threat from the Soviet Union and the shortage of dedicated long-range reconnaissance aircraft, it was decided to transfer some Lincoln’s to intelligence gathering duties.
In Oct 1951 two 58 Sqn Lincoln’s, SX991 ‘OT:C’ and RF331 ‘OT:B’, based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire were formed into the new Radar Reconnaissance Flight (RRF) to exploit the potential of H2S radar for reconnaissance purposes. With the imminent arrival of the V Bomber Force, who planned to operate from high-level using the aircraft's radar to navigate and identify their targets, it was essential that radar signatures of likely routes and even targets were assembled into a target information library. Consequently, the RRF aircraft were tasked to fly sorties into various areas of mainland Europe, particularly Germany. As the H2S radar scanned the ground, identifying prominent features, these details were photographed. These photographs were then used to provide V Bomber crews with a clear indication of the likely radar signature of prominent features on their intended routes towards their actual targets. Exact details of the RRF’s activities have never been released. One particular ‘special duty’ sortie, flow by Sgt Gill in SX991 on the night of 20 Dec 51, was so sensitive that it was actually authorised by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Two additional Lincoln’s were eventually added to the RRF’s compliment of aircraft and on 15 July 1953, the entire unit moved to Wyton. The Lincoln’s RRF role was eventually taken over by the Valiant’s of 543 Sqn and later still the Victor.
The only RAF aircraft ever acknowledged to have been shot down by Soviet aircraft was an Avro Lincoln, RF531, from the Central Gunnery School (CGS) at Leconfield in Yorkshire. On 12th March 1953 two routine NATO liaison sorties were scheduled for the Lincoln’s of the CGS. These regular fortnightly training flights over Europe provided radar tracking and fighter affiliation training for both RAF and Allied forces and were a realistic simulation of a 6/7 hour high-level operational sortie, particularly for the trainee gunners.
The first Lincoln ‘H’ (RF503) captained by FS Denham, with the CO of the Free Gunnery School, Sqn Ldr F E Doran, in the mid-upper turret, got airborne at 0900 and set course for Germany. During its transit ‘H’ was ‘attacked’ numerous times by Thunderjets of the Dutch Air Force, Belgian Meteors and RAF Vampires. However, as the aircraft neared Kassel, still well inside the British Zone, two MIG 15’s suddenly appeared from underneath the aircraft on the port beam. After visually inspecting the aircraft, the 2 MIG’s peeled away and then conducted a series of high quarter approaches, as if they were about to attack the aircraft, without opening fire – all this was recorded on the cine-cameras attached to the Lincoln’s guns. To ensure the proximity of the Lincoln to the border of the Russian Zone did not provoke further attacks, the Lincoln was turned from a northerly onto a westerly heading and eventually returned safely to Leconfield.
Some 2 hours behind ‘H’ came the second Lincoln ‘C’ (RF531) captained by FS PJ Dunnell with Sqn Ldr H J Fitz, the new CO of 3 Sqn along for a familiarisation sortie as co-pilot. At 13.20hrs, as the aircraft was entering the 20-mile wide air corridor from Hamburg to Berlin, it was attacked by 2 MIG 15’s that opened fire without warning. The Lincoln went down in a steep dive, followed by the MIG’s who continued to pour fire into the crippled aircraft. The aircraft’s starboard wing caught fire and it began to break up in mid-air. The main body of the aircraft crashed into a wood near Bolzenburg, 3 miles inside the Russian Zone, with 4 of the crew still in the wreckage. The remainder of the aircraft fell to ground near Bleckede, on the edge of Luneburg Heath 15 miles SE of Hamburg, inside the British Zone. Three of the crew managed to bail out of the doomed plane, but one of the parachutes failed to open. The 2 other crewmembers landed (one in the British Zone) but both died of their wounds and other injuries. A number of German eyewitnesses confirmed that MIG’s had been responsible for the attack on the aircraft and suggested that one of the fighters had also attacked the descending parachutists – this would explain certain features of the medical reports on the deceased.
Whilst this aircraft had undoubtedly strayed close to, and possibly even slightly over the border, it’s track was clearly intended to take it into the air corridor, a fact that must have been quite obvious to the Russians. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, described the incident in the House of Commons as ‘wanton attack’ and a strong note of protest was delivered to the Russians. The Russians replied by claiming that the Lincoln crew had fired first. However, it was soon pointed out that on these training sorties the belt mechanisms were removed from the cannons in the mid-upper turret and the rear turret carried no ammunition. The Russians eventually expressed regret over the death of the 7-crew members and returned their bodies and the wreckage to RAF Celle shortly after the incident.
The Russians were particularly aggressive during this period. A week earlier a USAF F-84 Thunderjet had been shot down by MIG’s luckily the pilot managed to eject safely. A week later a BEA Viking was attacked by MIG’s whilst on a scheduled flight in the Berlin Air Corridor. Two weeks later an American B-50, allegedly on a routine Met flight, was also attacked by MIG’s, but drove them off with cannon fire. For several weeks all NATO aircraft flying near the East German border operated on a fully-armed ‘fire back’ basis, until the crisis had gradually died down.
On 15 Jul 1951 No 192 Sqn was reformed at the Central Signals Establishment, RAF Watton, Norfolk for Radar Counter-Measures (RCM), Operational Signals Research (OSR) and Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM) activity. It’s main role was to ‘listen in and record’ Warsaw Pact electronic activity. The Squadron was eventually equipped with six Lincoln B2 aircraft that had been specially converted for use in the ELINT role. Five of the Lincoln’s used by 192 Squadron were:
|Registration||Squadron Number / Letter|
The six specially equipped Lincoln were used for over 15 years by 192 Sqn in a Signals Intelligence gathering role, but no official details of these activities have ever been made public.
192 Squadron was re-numbered 51 Squadron on 21 August 1958. Today 51 Squadron operates 3 Nimrod R1 ELINT aircraft from RAF Waddington.
From November 1973 to May 1982, 27 Sqn, based at RAF Scampton, was equipped with the Avro Vulcan Mk B2 and operated in the Strategic Maritime Radar Reconnaissance (MRR) role. The Vulcan’s of 27 Sqn assumed this role on 1 Jun 74 from the Victor B.2(SR)’s of 543 Sqn when their airframes were withdrawn and converted to Victor K2 tankers. However, a flight of 4 Victors were retained until May 75 to monitor French nuclear tests in the Pacific.
The BAe Nimrod MR2 was designed from the outset as a long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft to replace the Shackleton, which was itself a development of the Lancaster bomber. The Nimrod is essentially a Comet 4C with an unpressurised weapons bay added on underneath, creating a ‘double bubble’ effect that gives the aircraft its distinctive appearance. However, the original Comet was designed back in the late 1940’s and first flew on 27 Jul 49, so the basic Nimrod design that evolved from the Comet 4C owes more to the 1950’s than to any other period and, although this has had many advantages, it has also had some significant disadvantages. The Nimrod MR1 first flew on 23 May 67 and the aircraft eventually entered service with 236 OCU at RAF St Mawgan on 2 Oct 69 – the first of 46 aircraft eventually delivered to the RAF. From the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, 35 Nimrod’s were fitted with upgraded detection systems, including the EMI Searchwater radar, and were re-designated Nimrod MR2s.
Over the 35+ years the Nimrod has been in service it has proved to be an outstanding Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and is still the only jet powered dedicated MPA to have entered squadron service, although the US Navy have now opted for the Boeing 737MMA to eventually replace their long-serving Lockheed P-3 Orion MPAs. The Nimrod has been seen throughout the world, taking part in numerous joint exercises where their combination of transit speed, endurance and on-board sensors have made them a formidable sub-hunter. During the Falklands War in 1982, a number of Nimrods operated from Ascension Island and, after being hastily fitted with AAR probes and Sidewinder missiles for self defence, these aircraft flew long-range sorties of up to 19hrs, both in support of the Task Force and sometimes parallel to the coastline of Argentina as close at 96kms. During the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980’s, under the cover of Exercise Magic Roundabout, Nimrods operated from Seeb in Oman to provide reconnaissance support for the Royal Navy. This experience came in handy during the later Gulf crisis when Nimrods flew 310 sorties enforcing UN sanctions and then 86 combat sorties during Gulf War I.
The end of the Cold War in the early 1990’s had a significant impact on Nimrod operations. As the Warsaw Pact slowly collapsed and the Soviet Union disintegrated into a variety of independent states, the Russian Navy gradually suffered a similar decline. Economic austerity bit harder and harder and with each passing year more and more ships and submarines were tied up at their moorings and left to slowly rust away, leaving the Nimrod with few if any threats to either detect or track in the North Atlantic. However, since the early 1980’s, the US Navy had decided that their Lockheed Orion P-3 MPA offered an ideal combination of range, communications equipment and manpower to provide excellent reconnaissance platforms. Two squadrons,VPU-1 station at NAS Brunswick, Maine and VPU-2 stationed at NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii, were designated ‘patrol special projects units’ and were each issued with three ‘Storm Jib’ P-3s, identical in external appearance in almost every respect to other P-3s, but very carrying very different equipment. The aircraft were originally known by the code name ‘Reef Point’ and were fitted with state-of-the-art optical, electronic, infrared and chemical reconnaissance equipment, together with digital communications links. The reconnaissance flexibility these aircraft offered has proved invaluable and over the years they have been sighted conducting reconnaissance operations at every major conflict or political hotspot. The success of the Reef Point/Storm Jib squadrons has resulted in around 25% of the P-3 MPA fleet being fitted with some form of surveillance and intelligence gathering equipment, extending their mission beyond antisubmarine warfare.
The RAF had never been slow to recognise the reconnaissance potential of the Nimrod and since 1971 has operated three Nimrod R1 SIGINT aircraft with 51 Sqn, now based at RAF Waddington. However, although the Nimrod MR2s carried some electronic surveillance equipment and an extensive communications fit, they lacked any electro-optical or infrared cameras and during the Cold War this equipment was considered unnecessary for their MPA role – lack of sufficient finance probably also contributed to this decision.
However, the end of the Cold War and a much reduced submarine threat, forced the RAF to consider whether the best use was being made of the Nimrod fleet, particularly as there was an increased requirement for long-endurance reconnaissance aircraft capable of carrying a variety of sensors. Five Nimrod MR2s were fitted with an L-3 Communications Wescam MX-15 electro-optical system, mounted in a pod on an existing underwing pylon. The Wescam MX-15 is a sophisticated day/night optical system, with a high magnification 4-step zoom lens and an integrated laser illuminator/rangefinder. In 2002, in the build up to Gulf War II, four of these Nimrods were detached to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) in Saudi Arabia. During their time at PSAB these aircraft were used to support UK Forces operating in Iraq, the Nimrods orbited overhead to act as a communications relay and used their electro-optical equipment to identify potential targets and keep an eye out for enemy troops. However, the Nimrods could not transmit images in real time over a datalink to ground stations, so intelligence reports had to be passed over voice radio nets. The Nimrods were later used to assist AC-130 Spectre Gunships and RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft by pinpointing targets with their sensors and then relaying the targeting data to the attacking aircraft.
Given the success of the Reef Point/Storm Jib P-3 Orions, the suitability of the Nimrod as an optical reconnaissance platform was never in much doubt, but until fairly recently had to remain a ‘desirable’ rather than ‘essential’ capability. Recognising the changing threat and the increasing need for reconnaissance, rather than maritime patrol capability, the new Nimrod MRA4 will be equipped from the outset with the Northrop Grumman Nighthunter Electro-Optical Search and Detection System (EOSDS), installed under the nose in a retractable ball turret, as well as the Israeli Elta EL/L-8300UK Electronic Support Measures (ESM) suite, giving the aircraft a significant ELINT capability. Given the current political situation and until the arrival of the Nimrod MRA4, it would appear highly likely that the specially equipped Nimrods MR2s will be kept busy for the foreseeable future and are much more likely to be deployed on actual reconnaissance operations, than the standard MR2s are likely to be engaged in actual anti-submarine operations.
When 192 Sqn was re-numbered 51 Sqn on 21 Aug 58, attention soon turned to identifying a replacement for the 3 venerable Comet R Mk2’s which would approach the end of their useful lives by the early 1970’s. Air Staff Requirement 389 was issued detailing the characteristics required for a SIGINT aircraft to replace the Comets. It was quickly apparent that the flexibility required for ASW operations made the aircraft ideal for gathering electronic intelligence and procurement staff soon focused on the HS 801 Nimrod Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft being purchased for the RAF. On operational sorties the Comet R Mk2 often operated in conjunction with a 51 Sqn Canberra, however, the flight characteristics of the Nimrod also allowed this aircraft to operate without a supporting aircraft allowing additional savings. In 1969 3 Nimrods were ordered for 51 Sqn, initially as HS 801Rs, but later changed to Nimrod R1s. The cost of developing the 3 specially configured aircraft was estimated at £2.38m with production costing £11.34m. Additional special equipment accounted for £1.25m and additional COMINT equipment (magnetic tape recorders, TR1986/1987 and R216 receiver replacements, aerial distribution system and auto voice indicator) added an estimated £545k.
Although the airframe of the Nimrod R1 is essentially the same as the Nimrod MR1 ASW variant, internally the aircraft are completely different, apart from the flight deck area. Because of the sensitivity of the equipment involved, the aircraft were delivered as essentially empty shells to RAF Wyton where they were fitted out. The flight deck area consists of 5 crew (2 pilots, 2 navigators and a flight engineer) but additional space is available for 2 supplementary crew to provide relief on long sorties. Accurate navigation is essential and the aircraft were fitted out with AD360 ADF, AD260 VOR/ILS, AN/ARN-172 TACAN, AN/ARA-50 UFH DF, LORAN, and a Kollsman periscope sextant. The ASV-21D radar from the ASW variant was retained with a 32in diameter dish, but provision was made for an antenna up to 5ft. Up to 23 SIGINT specialists are accommodated at 13 side facing equipment consoles in the fuselage; console 1-5 are located on the port side with consoles 6-13 on the starboard side. Each console was designed to accommodate two 4ft modules with provision for a single seat placed centrally but able to slide on transverse rails. Consoles 1-4 and 9-12 had provision for a pair of side-by-side seats. Three forward facing single-man consoles now augment these double consoles.
The first Nimrod R1, XW664, was delivered to Wyton on 7 Jul 71 and took over 2 years to fit out. The first training sortie (Captained by Flt Lt Gordon Lambert) was flown on 21 Oct 73. The first operational sortie was flown on 3 May 74 and the type was formally commissioned into RAF service on 10 May 74. Two more Nimrod R1’s entered service during late 1974, XW665 and XW666, allowing the retirement of the last Comets and Canberra’s. For pilot training 51 Sqn also received a standard Nimrod MR1 (XZ283) on 8 Apr 76; this airframe stayed with the squadron until June ’78 when it was returned to BAe for conversion to AEW3 standard. Another Nimrod MR1 (XV252) then briefly acted as the trainer until the squadron reverted to the 3 operational aircraft.
In 1980 the aircraft were upgraded by replacing the ASV21 ASW radar with an ECKO 290 weather radar displaying in the cockpit this allowed the radar navigator crew position to be removed. The workload of the single navigator was improved by removing one of the LORAN sets and replacing it with a Delco AN/ASN-119 Carousel IVA INS. As a result of this upgrade one of the LORAN external aerials was removed and a variety of other external antennae appeared, believed to be used for direction finding. Wingtip pods, similar in appearance to the Yellow Gate Electronic Support Measures (ESM) fitted to the Nimrod MR2 also appeared on XW664 and then the other 2 aircraft. The requirement for in-flight refuelling became apparent as a result of Operation Corporate, the plan to recapture the Falkland Islands following the Argentinean invasion in 1982; however, the probes were not actually fitted until after the conflict was resolved. Along with the refuelling probe each aircraft also gained a large ventral fin, overwing vortex generators and retangular tailplane finlets. Underwing pylons were also fitted at the same time and these now carry a modified BOZ pod believed to contain a towed radar decoys. It is believed the aircraft is now also fitted with a Marconi Master satellite communications system.
The Nimrod R1 used during Op Corporate was XW664, where the aircraft operated from during the conflict in open to speculation, but some sources believe the aircraft operated from a base in Chile alongside a detachment of RAF Canberra PR9’s. In 1995 51 Sqn finally left RAF Wyton after 32 years in residence and moved to RAF Waddington from where it continues to operate.
Nimrod R1 XW666 was jokingly referred to by some personnel on 51 Sqn as ‘The Beast’ or ‘Damian’, because of the ‘satanic’ connotations of the number 666. Unfortunately, on 16 May 95, during an air-test, following a lengthy stay at the Nimrod Major Servicing Unit at Kinloss, a starter motor blew itself to bits and the debris punctured the wing and fuel tanks. A Wreckage of Nimrod R1 XW666 catastrophic fire broke out which was so severe that there was every likelihood the main spar holding the wing onto the fuselage would burn through and fail. The pilot of the aircraft, Flt Lt Art Stacey, had no choice but to carry out an immediate ditching in the Moray Firth from which all the crew survived. The aircraft was later recovered and scrapped. A Nimrod MR2, XV249, was identified as a suitable replacement and after a major overhaul at Kinloss the aircraft was ferried to BAe Woodford and stripped of all ASW equipment. After the installation of some antenna fairings, the aircraft was ferried to RAF Waddington on 19 Dec 96.
When XW666 was lost the 3 Nimrod R1’s were in the middle of a major modification programme known as Starwindow. The project had been launched to equip the R1’s with a new Open Systems architecture digital SIGINT suite, probably based on those carried by the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft operated by the USAF. The Starwindow system incorporates two high-speed search receivers, a wide band digital direction finding system and 22 pooled digital intercept receivers. New workstations were fitted for the ‘specialists’ in the rear of the aircraft. The Starwindow installation on XV249 began on 27 Dec 96 and the aircraft eventually flew as a fully equipped R1 on 11 Apr 97. In addition to the Starwindow package the R1’s were also fitted with a new ‘Special Signals’ intercept facility with a digital recording and playback suite, an enhanced pulse-signal processing capability and multi channel digital data demodulator.
On 21 Sep 05 it was announced that the RAF had completed flight trials and acceptance testing of a new airborne reconnaissance system named Extract that was designed specifically for the three Nimrod R1 SIGINT aircraft.
Developed by Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems, Extract examines routine radio and radar emissions whilst providing electronic combat support to military commanders and will provide enhanced automated capabilities enabling it to respond to current and future threats. In addition to the Extract system on the Nimrod R1s, the company also supplied ground-based analysis systems and a rear crew trainer, as well as providing continued contractor logistic support for Extract through to 2013.
In addition to the new Extract system, Northrop Grumman have been selected to execute a £2 million first stage assessment phase for Project Helix, a program to provide a new mission suite, associated ground stations and training facilities to enhance the overall reconnaissance mission capabilities of the Nimrod R1. Also in competition for the final £200 million project are L-3 Communications’ Integrated Systems and Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Systems and Solutions, both of whom have also been awarded Phase 1 assessment contracts. In 2007 L-3 Communications Integrated Systems (L-3 IS) won a £11.5M contract to carry out the risk reduction studies for Helix Assessment Phase Stage 3. Main Gate approval is expected in June 2009 and L-3 IS will be the prefered contractor to execute the Project Helix Demonstration and Manufacture contract, with a projected value of £400M over a seven year period. The first upgraded aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in early 2013. The Nimrod R1s were planned to remain in service until 2012 and many expected these original aircraft to be replaced by a new version based on the Nimrod MRA4, however, this now appears unlikly to happen and a study will eventually determine how best to replace the capability provided by these three unique aircraft.
The success of the EC-121 and E-2 AEW aircraft during the Vietnam War did not go un-noticed in the USSR and it is believed that sometime in the mid 1960’s the Russians began to try and develop their own AEW aircraft. However, the Russians soon discovered what many other countries have also found to their cost – acquiring the necessary technology and making it work effectively in an aircraft is very difficult, extremely expensive and can take far longer than originally planned.
Nevertheless by the early 1970’s the USSR began to operate the Tu-126 Moss, a military version of the Tupolev Tu-144 airliner. This four-engine turboprop operated with a crew of 12 and carried the Liana radar (NATO Code name Flat Jack) in a rotordome mounted above the fuselage. However, the large counter-rotating metal propellers used by the Kuznetsov NK-12M turboprop engines seriously compromised the performance of the radar and only a few versions of this aircraft were developed. These deficiencies were only marginally improved by the installation of a replacement radar called Shmel – what was needed was a new airframe.
To replace the Tu-126 Moss it was decided that the new platform had to be jet powered and the obvious aircraft was a modified version of the new IL-76MD Candid transport aircraft which was just beginning to enter service in the mid 1970’s. The new aircraft, designated the A-50, was developed and manufactured by the Beriev Company and, like the E-3A Sentry, mounted a rotodome above the fuselage. In addition the usual nose glazing and tail turret of the Candid were replaced with new radomes and an in-flight refuelling probe was installed above the nose. The aircraft are equipped with an extensive avionics suite including voice radio, datalinks, IFF, an ECM system and comprehensive navigation equipment. The normal crew complement is 15, comprising of 2 pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and 10 systems operators. Compared to the E-3, the crew facilities inside the Mainstay are Spartan, with no rest bunks and high noise levels.
The A-50 was given the NATO reporting name Mainstay and the aircraft entered service in 1984, initially operating from bases in the Baltic, eventually the fleet of between 16 to 25 aircraft were all grouped further north at Perchora. Although capable of longer missions using air-to-air refuelling, Mainstay’s have generally operated on station for around 4 hrs flying a figure of eight pattern at around 32,500ft. The Mainstay’s radar performance is said to be roughly similar to the Sentry and, although the absolute detection range is less, it is supposed to have a superior ability to discriminate targets against ground clutter. A-50’s are frequently detached to participate in exercises in the Far East and two aircraft are known to have monitored certain activities in Gulf War 1 from orbits over the Black Sea. The improved A-50U, featuring the Vega Shmel-M radar, first entered service in 1995, this radar is believed to a have the capacity to track between 50 to 60 targets and control between 10 to 12 fighters simultaneously.
For obvious reasons the USA is very reluctant to allow the export of AEW technology to specific regions as this invariably results in an ‘AEW race’ between competing nations. However, the acquisition of a modern AEW system has been high on the list of priorities for many emerging nations and if the USA has been unwilling to export their AEW technology, other countries such as Russia, Israel and Sweden have been quick to offer their own AEW systems for sale. So far three other countries have attempted to operate AEW versions of the Il-76 Candid, Iraq, India and China.
Sadam Hussein and his generals knew that the USA were unlikely to ever sell him a workable AWACS, so instead he directed various Iraqi engineers to create their own using the Il-76 Candid airframe. The first version, known as the Baghdad 1, featured a French Thompson –CSF Tiger-G radar, built under licence in Iraq as the Salahuddin G, which was the mounted right at the rear of the fuselage below the tail. This was supported by a Rockwell-Collins IFF pod slung underneath, together with various electronic equipment from Selenia in Italy and Marconi in England. Thompson acted as the systems intergrator as well as building the fibreglass and composite radome that replaced the aircraft’s belly doors. However, although the Tiger-G was a sophisticated 2-D radar, it was designed to operate from the ground and nobody ever imagined anyone would seriously consider hanging the radar upside down inside the back of an IL-76 and try to use it as an AWACS system. A French engineer who saw the system commented, “ I don’t believe in it for an instant. The Tiger-G gives out so much heat when it turns, the people manning it in the back of the plane are going to fry after half and hour”. Unsurprisingly, the Baghdad 1 proved to be a complete failure. During Gulf War 1 the Baghdad 1 was flown out to Iran and was seen in 2003 on the ramp at Tehran-Mehrabad air base. Three other Iraq IL-76 aircraft were given the Adnan conversion, consisting of a more conventional rotodome above the fuselage, but this system was also a failure. Although one of the Adnan aircraft was destroyed on the ground at Al Taqaddum airfield on 23 Jan 91 during Gulf War 1, the two other aircraft managed to take refuge in Iran where they are believed to remain in storage at Shiraz air base.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been keen to acquire an effective AWACS system for many years to give it a competitive edge in it’s long running dispute with Pakistan. In early April 2000 Russia agreed to lease two A-50 Mainstay aircraft to the IAF and during July 2000 these aircraft were used along the border with Pakistan to see exactly how far inside the other country the radar could identify targets. Eventually in 2004 India decided not to buy the A-50 Mainstay ‘off-the-shelf’ and instead concluded a $1.1 billion deal with Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) for them to install a version of their Phalcon radar on three IL-76MD aircraft. The first aircraft was delivered from the Tashket factory in Uzbekistan to the IAI factory in Israel in Apr 2005 and the other two following in May and June 2005. The first IL-76MD fitted with the Phalcon radar will be delivered around Dec 2007, with the second aircraft following in Sep 2008 and the final aircraft in Mar 2009. These aircraft will probably work alongside a number of smaller Embraer EMB-145 AEW aircraft, equipped with a phased array radar developed in India by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in a seven year programme costing $3,88.9 million. Currently it is planned to mount the radar above the fuselage in a similar manner to the Ericsson PS-890 Erieye radar.
China has been in the market for a AWACS system since the early 1990’s and in 1992 they began discussions with Russia about the possibility of purchasing the A-50 Mainstay. However, rather like the Indian Air Force, the Chinese decided that what they really needed was a more effective radar system mounted on the Il-76, rather than the A-50 Mainstay ‘off-the-shelf’ and the radar they wanted was again the Israeli ‘Phalcon’ system. In 1994 they began negotiations with Russia and Israel for the purchase and conversion of four AWACS aircraft worth about $1 billion. Then in 1996 the three sides reached agreement for the supply of one Phalcon equipped Il-76 aircraft, known as a Beriev A-501, and the following year this deal was extended to include the option of three more aircraft in a contract worth over $1 billion. In Oct 1999 an A-50 airframe was flown to Israel to allow IAI to begin installation of the Phalcon system and by May 2000 this work was almost complete – but then international politics came into play. The US administration had always been against the Chinese acquiring advanced military technology that could be used to threaten Taiwan and the Phalcon AWACS system would give the PLAAF a significant military and technological capability that, in the best Chinese tradition, they would soon copy and then eventually improve. After intense pressure from the USA, in July 2000 Israel finally cancelled the deal, stripped the aircraft of the Phalcon equipment and returned it to China via Russia in 2002.
Nevertheless, although their plan to acquire advanced western technology has been scuppered at the last minute, this made the Chinese all the more determined to press ahead their AWACS aircraft, albeit considerably less capable than the Phalcon would have been. Work on the A-501 airframe began in 2002 almost as soon as it returned from Russia at the Xi’an Aircraft Industry Company (XAC) to install a conventional rotordome over the fuselage. The rotordome is believed to contain a non-rotating Chinese manufactured Phased Array Radar (PAR) laid out in a triangle of three modules to provide 360 degree coverage. At least two of these aircraft, known as the KJ-2000, have been converted to this particular configuration and these have been seen undertaking flight tests since 2003 at the Chinese Flight Test Establishment at Nanjing.
Meanwhile the Nanjing Electronic Technology Research Institute (NETRI) was also developing a smaller AEWC system mounted on the Y-8/An-12 aircraft. The system consists of a single PAR module mounted in a fairing above the fuselage in a similar manner to the Saab 340 Argus Ericsson PS-890 Erieye radar and is believed to be known as the High-New 2. A smaller PAR module may also be mounted underneath the fuselage to provide ground surveillance. NETRI is also believed to be working on two other AEWAC projects known as the High-New 3 and High-New 4, also based on the Y-8/An-12 airframe.
In the future many well informed observers believe that the main threat to world peace may well come from a wealthy, ambitious and expansionist Chinese nation, intent on establishing their predominance in the Far East and Pacific Rim. With this in mind, I very much doubt that any advanced western technology will be exported to China, particularly as, like Russia in the past, they tend to steal western technology and then copy it, without ever actually paying the companies who actually own the copyright.
In the early 1950’s, when the Russian Navy introduced the ‘Sverdlov’ class cruiser into service, the capability of this heavily armed surface raider to wreak havoc on merchant shipping in any future conflict gave the Royal Navy (RN) a rude awakening. To counter this threat the RN decided that the most cost effective solution was a new specialised strike aircraft employing conventional or nuclear weapons, attacking at high-speed and low-level, operating from their Fleet Carriers. The detailed staff specification was issued in June 1952 as requirement NA39 and called for a two-seat aircraft with folding wings, capable of flying at Mach 0.85 at 200ft whilst carrying a nuclear weapon internally over a radius of action exceeding 400nms. Based on the RN requirement, in Aug 1952 the Ministry of Aviation issued specification M148T and by Feb 1953 the first responses from industry began to be returned.
The design submitted by Blackburn Aircraft soon emerged as the favourite submission. Known initially as Project B103, the Blackburn design featured a relatively small wing, ideal for high-speed low-level flight which, thanks to a boundary layer control system in which hot air was drawn from the engine and then blown across the trop of the wing and in front of the flaps and ailerons, allowed the take-off and landing speeds to be lowered by 25kts. The Blackburn design also benefited from the area rule work of Richard Whitcomb at NACA and was powered by two de Havilland Gyron Junior engines of 8000lbs thrust each. In July 1955 the Ministry of Supply placed an order for 20 development aircraft. The prototype aircraft XK486 first flew on 30 Apr 1958 from RAE Bedford having been transported there by road from the Blackburn factory at Brough, on the banks of the Humber. For further flight trials, subsequent aircraft were towed on their own wheels from Brough to the nearby airfield of Home-on-Spalding Moor which had a longer runway.
On 26 Aug 1960 the new aircraft was formally named the Buccaneer S Mk1 – up to this time the aircraft was known as the Blackburn Aircraft Naval Aircraft or BANA for short which led to the Banana jet nickname followed the aircraft throughout its service. In March 1961 700Z Flt was formed at RNAS Lossiemouth to conduct the Intensive Flying Trials on the Buccaneer prior to its entry into service and conducted various trials from HMS Eagle and Ark Royal. The first Buccaneer squadron was commissioned on 17 July 1962 when 801 Sqn formed up at Lossiemouth. By 1965 the underpowered Gyron Juniors engines were replaced by Rolls-Royce Spey engines and these versions were known as Buccaneer S Mk2s.
Although the Buccaneer was repeatedly offered to the RAF to meet their requirement for a new high-speed low-level bomber to replace the Canberra, the RAF were convinced that the TSR-2 best met their requirements. However, behind the scenes skulduggery by the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was utterly biased towards promoting the interests of the RN ahead of the RAF, eventually helped finish off the demise of the TSR-2. However, by a rather nice irony, when the RAF did eventually acquire the Buccaneer, they included those previously operated by the RN. The arrival of a new Labour government and Denis Healey as the Secretary of State for Defence marked a change in fortunes for both the RAF and RN. As well as cancelling the TSR-2 in a new round of defence cuts, they also decided not to build any new aircraft carriers to replace the current fleet carriers that were approaching the end of their service – signalling the end of RN conventional fixed wing flying. On 10 July 1968, after the RAF’s order for the F-111 was cancelled, the Ministry of Defence finally placed an order with Blackburn for on initial order of 26 Mk 2 aircraft for the RAF – this was followed by a further order for 17 aircraft and the RAF also acquired 64 S Mk2 aircraft from the RN.
A little documented fact of the Buccaneer’s service with the RN and RAF is that it could be equipped with a reconnaissance pack in the large bomb bay. The Buccaneer reconnaissance pack consisted of six F95 cameras arranged as a vertical fan of three, with a further three as forward and sideways obliques. The reconnaissance pack was first used operationally by the Buccaneers of 800 NAS flying from HMS Eagle during the Beira patrols, the oil blockage of the newly independent Rhodesia, in 1966 when two tankers attempting to break the blockade were identified and photographed. The following year, after the departure of the RAF’s 1417 Flt of Hunters, 800 NAS used the reconnaissance packs again over Aden to cover the final withdrawal of British forces. Throughout their service, RN Buccaneers were frequently fitted with the reconnaissance packs to ensure the aircrew remained current in their operation. The RAF Buccaneer squadrons inherited the reconnaissance packs from the RN, however the RAF Buccaneer squadrons never had a reconnaissance role. Although the packs were occasionally fitted to RAF aircraft, they were never used operationally and were eventually withdrawn from service.
As well as the ability to carry the reconnaissance pack, the new RAF Buccaneers also retained the arrestor hook and folding wings of the RN versions and also were equipped with a bomb bay door fuel tank which increased the fuel capacity by some 425 gallons. The RAF aircraft were designated the S Mk 2A, which carried conventional or nuclear weapons and the S Mk 2B which carried the Martel anti-ship missile. On 11 Feb 1969 12 Sqn based at RAF Honington was the first RAF squadron to be equipped with the Buccaneer and in 1971 this base became the home of 237 OCU who then trained all subsequent Buccaneer aircrew. Eventually 12, 208 and 216 Sqns were based at Honington and then Lossiemouth, although 216 Sqn was eventually disbanded, whilst 15 and 16 Sqns were based at RAF Laarbruch in West Germany. The Buccaneer was an aeroplane much loved by those who served on the various squadrons, but having been designed in the 1950's s and never really updated, it's hardly surprising that by the 1980's it was suffering from its poor avionics and could only ever operate at low-level in good weather. In Jan 1991, long after the aircraft should have been withdrawn from service, six aircraft were sent to participate in Gulf War 1 where they used their TIALD laser designator to identify targets from high level for accompanying Tornados to bomb with laser guided weapons. It says something about the miss-management of the Defence budget that such an antiquated aircraft had to be called at this crucial time upon because the Tornados then lacked the ability to designate targets themselves. Eventually, after long and successful service, all the Buccaneer squadrons were re-equipped with the Tornado and in March 1994 the last Buccaneer was retired from RAF service at RAF Lossiemouth.
A number of countries are known to have introduced SIGINT versions of old Boeing 707 aircraft into their inventory.
It is believed that 4 Boeing RC707 aircraft are operated by the IAF, two in the SIGINT role and two in the ECM role. The aircraft are known as Re'em (Antelope) and are operated by 134 Tayeset at Lod. Some other IAF 707s are possibly configured for AAR/SIGINT operations. Some of the ELINT aircraft incorporate a cheek-antenna array externally similar to the AEELS (Automatic ELINT Emitter Locating System) on the RC-135U/V/W. Israel is currently looking for up to 9 dual role aircraft to replace their 707’s and will purchase a number of Gulfstream G500s.
In 2004 the first Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) SIGINT Boeing RE-3A visited UK. This aircraft, which started life as a KE-3A tanker, is the first of possibly 3 aircraft being converted by the E Systems Division of Raytheon, Texas to the RE-3A configuration. Its is believed that two versions of the aircraft will eventually be in service, the RE-3A, equipped with the Tactical Airborne Surveillance System (TASS) and the RE-3B equipped with the Improved Tactical Airborne Surveillance System (ITASS).
The most obvious change to the aircraft is the addition of the ‘chipmunk cheeks’ on the forward fuselage of the aircraft. These bulges contain the sensors used to collect SIGINT and although they appear identical to those on the RC-135V and RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft, it is understood that they contain a slightly different sensor suite. Numerous small SIGINT antenna are also mounted beneath the aircraft. It would be interesting to discover exactly who the RSAF target this aircraft against, presumably other Arab countries, most probably Iran. As well as the US and Saudi Arabia, both Israel and South Africa operate ELINT 707 aircraft fitted with the tell-tale ‘chipmunk cheeks’ SIGINT systems, built in Israel and mounted on the forward fuselage.
60 Squadron of the South African Air Force (SAAF) based at Waterkloof are known to operate 3 modified Boeing 707’s in the SIGINT role, at least 2 of which are also configured for AAR operations. Displaying the close links that the SAAF have with the IAF, all 3 aircraft incorporate the cheek-antenna array externally similar to the AEELS (Automatic ELINT Emitter Locating System) on the RC-135U/V/W.
For many years South Africa and Israel collaborated very closely in many areas of Defence research.
Since March 1998 a single Boeing 707-351C Santiago (TM.17-4 ‘408-21’) has been operated by 408 Escuadron of the Spanish Air Force at Torrejon Air Base, which is also the location of the Centro de Inteligencia Aerea (Air Intelligence Centre). Configured for COMINT/ELINT and OPINT, the aircraft was modified and refurbished by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and equipped with elctronics provided by Elta and the Spanish Indra group. The aircraft was equipped with the Elta EL/L-8300 SIGINT system and the Tamam Stabilised Long Range Observation System (SLOS) this is a very high resolution TV camera and video recording system with a range over 62 miles (100km). It is understood that this aircraft frequently operates around the western edge of North Africa, the Western Sahara and the Mediterranean.
The Indian Air Force is believed to operate one Boeing 707 configured for ELINT duties and mainly targeted against Pakistan.
Angola is believed to opeate one 707, D2-MAY, that was modified in Israel with a variety of ELINT equipment and a long-range stabilized camera system.
Argentinian B-707 TC-91 photographed from a Sea Harrier At the time of the Flaklands War in 1982, the Fuerza Aerea Argentina (FAA) possessed 3 Boeing 707's which were assigned to 1 Brigada Aerea Grupo 1 de Transporte, Escuadron II based at Buenos Aires. Although the aircraft usually operated carrying passengers / freight and carried no special equipment, the FAA decided to use the aircraft for reconnaissance and surveillance duties against the British Task Force heading south to liberate the Falkland Islands. On 21 Apr 82 aircraft TC-91 detected the British Task Force at 0900hrs well out into the South Atlantic. The aircraft was detected at range by the Task Force and a Sea Harrier from 800 NAS flown by Lt Simon Hargreaves intercepted the aircraft. The Sea Harrier was carrying the usual compliment of 2 Sidewinder missiles and as it shephered the 707 away, the implied threat was made clear.
On 22 May 82 another 707 from Escuadron II had a lucky escape when it managed to evade 4 Sea Dart missiles launched by the Task Force. The risk of further sorties was too great and from that point on the 707's made no further attempt to find the Task Force.
In 1982, from experience gained in the Falklands War, Argentina began a study into the need for an ELINT aircraft. In 1986 a Boeing 707-387C, serial no TC-93, was converted by IAL into an ELINT aircraft under programme FAS-240 and given the new serial no VR-21. The aircraft underwent a complete overhaul at the IAL factory in 1997,including the installation of a number of new ELINT systems, and emerged painted in an overall grey colour scheme. The aircraft is operated by Escuadron V based at El Palomar AFB to the west of Buenos Aires.
Iran has operated a single ELINT 707-3J9C 5-8316 for a number of years. The equipment fit is not known, but given the general embargo on selling military equipment to this extreme regime, I would imagine most of it is locally produced and lags considerably behind modern western systems. The receivers appear to be mounted within the fuselage bulges just below the wing roots.
Paul Revere 707
The Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JFEX) is a Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF) sponsored Major Command executed series of experiments that combine live flying, live ground play of army and naval forces, simulations and the introduction of new technologies in a near-seamless warfighting environment.
Between 15 Jul and 5 Aug 04, Nellis AFB, Nevada staged JFEX 04, starting with a simulated combat phase and ending with a live flying phase when various combat aircraft were supported by a variety of ISTAR aircraft. A unique aircraft employed at JFEX 04 was a civilian registered Boeing 707 operated by the Air Force Material Command’s Task Force Paul Revere, based at Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts. The Boeing 707 was originally used as a commercial airliner and retired to the Arizona desert at the end of its service. In 1980 the aircraft was resorted to flying condition and by 2001 it had been converted into a flying laboratory by workers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory. Although on the civil register, as well as being maintained and flown by civilians, the aircraft actually belongs to the US government.
Crewed by a mixture of Air Force, Department of Defence personnel and government contractors, the Paul Revere 707, initially refered to as the MC2A-X, is used to test and experiment with airborne battle management, command , control and communication technology and concepts, in preparation for the planned Boeing E-10A. During JAFEX 04 the aircraft acted as an airborne relay centre/command post using multiple data links to exchange and fuse information from a variety of airborne and space sensors and the Combined Air and Space Operations Centre (CAOC). Of even more significance was the ability of the aircraft’s systems to also exchange data back to staff in the Pentagon.
Keen to market it's own AEW system for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and for export, Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAL) developed the Phalcon Airborne Early Warning, Command and Control System and mounted it on a Boeing 707 airframe. The Phalcon system has attracted interest from a variety of countries, however, when China expressed an interest in mounting the radar system on a Russian-built Ilyushin/Beriev A-501 Mainstay in Jul 2000, the USA eventually blocked the sale.
The Phalcon uses an ELTA EL/M-2075L-band conformally-mounted active phased array 360º electronic scanning antenna, consisting of 768 elements each individually controlled by a transmit/receive module, instead of a more conventional mechanically rotating radar antenna under a rotordome. The highly advanced capabilities of the Phalcon system are centered on a data fusion procedure, which continuously correlates the data gathered by the radar, IFF, ESM/ELINT and COMINT sensors. When any of these sensors indicate the presence of a target, the system automatically initiates an active search by any other complimentary sensors. Additional data from ground-based air defence sensors are then fused to create a complete battlespace picture, rather than just raw detection of airborne targets.
The Phalcon system was first made public at the 1993 Paris Air Show, but so far only one fully functioning Phalcon system has been exported to Chile, where it equips the Fuerza Aerea de Chile and has been named 'Condor'. It is likely that at least one IAF 707 has been equipped with the Phalcon system, but so far no photographs of the aircraft have been published. Finally, it is believed that a smaller partial system has been fitted to a SAAF 707, giving the South African's a limited AEW&C capability for the first time.
It was reported in August 2003 that American State Department objections to Israel selling the Phalcon AEW radar system to India had been removed. It is believed that India will pay around $1 billion for 3 Phalcon systems to be integrated onto three Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft operated by the Indian Air Force.
It is understood that IAI are also developing a miniaturised version of the Phalcon system for installation on the 3 Gulfstream G550 intelligence gathering platforms ordered for the IAF. The system will comprise nose and tail arrays operating in the S-band and side-mounted arrays operating in the L-band.
Indonesia operates 3 Boeing 737-2X9 Surveiller equipped with the Motorola Sideways Looking Airborne Modular Multi-mission Radar (SLAMMR). The aircraft are easily identified by the two radar antennae which are mounted on the rear fuselage in two canoe-shaped radomes.
The aircraft (AI-7301, AI-7302 and AI-7303) are operated by Skwadron Udara 5 (SkU 5) based at Hasanuddin on maritime reconnaissance duties but are also believed to have a significant SIGINT capability.
India is also believed to operate one or more Boeing 737’s in the SIGINT role.
From the late 1950’s through to 1976, the 7407th Operation Squadron based at Wiesbaden, West Germany, was equipped with a number of EC-97C Stratocruisers to perform SIGINT operations. The aircraft generally operated to and from Berlin-Tempelhof, flying over East Germany within the protected airspace of the Berlin Air Corridor.
As part of Project Pie Face, the gathering of photographic intelligence by mounting cameras of passenger carrying and transport aircraft, another C-97 (Serial No: 22687) was equipped with the 3.25-ton ‘Big Bertha’ or ‘Daisy Mae’ camera. This camera, with a 20-foot focal length, was developed by Boston University and was installed initially in an RB-36. However, it was later decided that because an overflight by an RB-36 would probably be too provocative, it would be better if a transport aircraft was equipped with this huge camera. The work to remove the camera from the RB-36 and install it in the C-97 was conducted in a secure hanger at Convair, Fort Worth.
The camera took 18 x 36 inch negatives exposed at 0.0025 seconds and could be positioned to take vertical or left or right oblique photographs through a large window which was hidden by covert doors. Flown by the 7405th Support Sqn, the C-97 flew regular sorties along the Berlin air corridor and often declared an emergency so that it didn't land, but returned to Wiesbaden. However, on other occasions this aircraft, together with the other C-97 aircraft operated by the 7405th Support Sqn, did land at Tempelhof, so much so that they were sometimes referred to as the 'Berlin for lunch bunch'.
These venerable aircraft were eventually replaced by the Lockheed C-130E-II Hercules.
From the end of the 1940s a number of redundant B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were converted to RB-17 reconnaissance aircraft and began to probe the borders of the Soviet Union, who had by then begun to emerge as a potential threat to the Western Powers. One of the main units involved in this activity was the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing based at Topeka, Kansas. Little was known about the air defence capability of the Soviet Union at this time and the most effective way of determining their capability was to probe the borders and see whether they would respond. Gradually the RB-17s and other aircraft mapped the perimeter of the Soviet Air Defences from the Baltic to the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan.
However, the most significant area was Russia's vast northern border, directly over the North Pole from North America. Russia was heavily committed to their massive land army stationed in Europe to counter a perceived ground threat from the Western Powers. At the same time Russia either did not believe the new USAF was a credible threat or they simply could not afford to extend their radar coverage along the entire length of their border, because the border reconnaissance flights soon discovered an almost total lack of radar coverage along a large part of northern Siberia.
In 1947 an RB-17 from Greenland and an RB-29 from Alaska flew 'Sitting Duck' combined penetration missions along the polar icecap several hundred miles apart. This mission, along with many others, found that west of the Bering Strait there was virtually no radar coverage. As a result of these missions, USAF war plans were drawn up which directed a massive bomber attack to hit Russia from this direction, flying on to land in the Middle East or Africa, or more likely bailing out out as the aircraft ran out of fuel. Gradually, during the late 1950's, the Soviets began filling in the gaps in their radar coverage over northern Siberia with P-14 'Tall King' radar's, but large gaps on the outer perimeter between Alaska and Murmansk were still wide open for many years to come.
The RB-29, later redesignated the F-13A and RB-50, was a reconnaissance version of the B-29 Superfortress which had been used to devastating effect over the skies of Japan during World War 2. Like the RAF, the USAF quickly recognised the need for a sustained intelligence gathering operation against the Soviet Union and that given the vast distance involved, the conversion of long-range strategic bombers was the quickest way to achieve an operational capability. The vast northern borders of the Soviet Union were wide open in many places and RB-29 / F-13A aircraft flew many sorties along the periphery, and where necessary into the interior. Generally, there was little opposition from the Soviet forces as radar coverage was very limited and, if the overflying aircraft were detected, the current piston engined Soviet fighters could not intercept the RB-29 at their operating altitude.
One particular operation involving F-13’s was ‘Project Nanook’, mounted by the 46th / 72nd Reconnaissance Sqn. From Ladd Field, Fairbanks, Alaska from 1946. The Pentagon had identified the inhospitable Arctic wastes as the most likely route for Soviet bombers intending to attack the USA and vice-versa. To counter the Soviet threat threat, it was decided that the USAF must quickly establish the means of operating men and equipment under arctic conditions, develop a system of polar navigation and assess the actual Soviet threat. As part of ‘Project Nanook’ a search was mounted through the arctic for any undiscovered landmass which might be occupied by the Soviet Union, but none was found.
The operation began in March 1946 when ten B-29s, including a couple of F-13s, deployed to Ladd AFB and soon they began to experience the difficulties of operating in an inhospitable place like Alaska. In Oct 1947 the 46th Reconnaissance Squadron was redesignated the 72nd Reconnaissance Squadron and then in June 1948 the F-13 was officially redesignated the RB-29 - by then the aircraft had began to concentrate on gathering intelligence on the Soviet Union. Between 1948-9 the RB-29s of the 72nd SRS conducted numerous photographic reconnaissance and ELINT missions over the Soviet Arctic and Far East. Equipped with cameras that enabled then to remain in international airspace, whilst photographing targets deep inside Soviet territory, the aircraft searched for evidence of Soviet military activity, but unsurprisingly, found little going on in the inhospitable Arctic wastes but nobody knew what was happening further inland. To investigate activity deeper inside Russia, some RB-29s were stripped of all unnecessary equipment, allowing them to increase their operating ceiling, and began overflying Soviet territory.
The US President, Harry Truman, authorised the first overflight on 5th Aug 1948 when an RB29 took-off from Ladd AFB and, after routing over Siberia and spending over 19 hours in the air, eventually landed at Yokota AB in Japan. Even longer flights soon became routine with aircraft operating up to 35,000ft, covering 5000 miles and remaining airborne for occasionally up to 30 hours. Although the Soviet Military was equipped rudimentary radar, copied from WW2 US supplied equipment, large gaps existed in their radar coverage, particularly over the vast Arctic region. These gaps were soon identified and exploited by the RB-29s as they penetrated deeper and deeper inside the Soviet Union. Although they were detected on many occasions, none of the RB-29s was ever intercepted because the early MiG-15 was the only fighter with sufficient performance to reach these high-flying aircraft and none of the new fighters were then stationed in Siberia.
Another version of the B-29, was the WB-29 specially equipped for detecting radioactive debris. On 3rd Sep 1949 one of these aircraft, flying between Japan and Alaska, was the first to gather evidence that Russia had tested a nuclear device in the Semipalatinski test site in Eastern Kazakhstan on 29th Aug 1949.
Following the end of the Cold War, the Russian authorities agreed to establish a joint commission called ‘Task Force Russia’ to search for any USAF crew member who might still be alive, but so far none has been discovered. A former Soviet intelligence officer, Gavril Korotkov, has stated that 6 crewmen from RB-50G 47154, were captured and interrogated by a KGB counter-espionage unit. When the crewmen refused to co-operate they were classed as spies and dispatched to the Gadhala prison camp in south-central Siberia were they eventually died.
In the late 1940’s the USA supplied 87 B-29 aircraft to the UK as part of the Mutual Defence Assistance Programme to fill a gap in the RAF inventory until the new Canberra bomber entered service. The aircraft were given the RAF designation ‘Washington’.
In fact not all the aircraft were B-29 bombers, three aircraft were RB-29s, the dedicated reconnaissance/ELINT version, WZ966, WZ967 and WZ968. In the first half of 1952 these three aircraft were allocated to No 192 Sqn at RAF Watton in Norfolk in, the home of the Central Signals Establishment, where they were used alongside Lincoln B2’s in the ELINT role. A fourth plane, WW346, was a standard bomber version which was also delivered to 192 Sqn for crew training. The ELINT Washington’s flew regular sorties along the fringes of the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas, monitoring Russian radar and signal transmissions. One Washington achieved a particularly significant ‘take’ when it brought back the first recordings of the Soviet airborne intercept radar, the ‘Scan Odd’. Occasional sorties were also mounted along Russia’s Northern border with Norway. None of the ELINT Washington’s were lost, although they were intercepted by Russian fighter aircraft on many occasions, particularly over the Black Sea.
The ELINT Washington’s were taken out of service in 1958, as the Comet R Mk2 entered service. All three RAF ELINT Washington’s were eventually broken up in Apr 58 and delivered as scrap to Shoeburyness Range in Sep 1958 to act as targets.
To assess the effectiveness of EW equipment, the 412th Test Wing at Edwards AFB operate a specially modified KC-135 Stratotanker as the NKC-135E, known as 'Big Crow', as a flying EW laboratory. The aircraft provides electronic countermeasures (ECM) testing and training support for all elements of the US armed services, using various jammers housed in the two large radomes above and below the fuselage. The aircraft generally operates within US airspace and provides high power, stand-off jamming to test the effectiveness of current US radars and any other equipment vunerable to jamming.
A recent Big Crow EW Enhancement Package (BCEP) used predominantly commercial off-the-shelf equipment to modernise the aircraft and enhance its capabilities. The updated equipment included new antennas, amplifiers, VCRs, data analyzers and other items of electronic equipment. A significant inprovement has also been made to the aircrafts communications equipment by updating the SATCOM, telemetry and secure encryption systems. In Dec 2000 is was reported that a $3 classified programme would use 'Big Crow' to investigate whether it could be used to impede the satellite operations of an adversary.
During the recent military operations in Iraq the only NKC-135E ‘Big Crow’ was sighted as it routed through RAF Mildenhall. After some difficulties in transiting through French airspace, the aircraft departed for Soudha Bay in Crete on 18 Mar.It is very unusual for ‘Big Crow’ to leave the USA and, as the aircraft is not normally used to conduct operational missions, there was some speculation about the aircraft's mission. On 26 Apr 03 ‘Big Crow’ routed back through Mildenhall on its way to Edwards, displaying 19 newly acquired ‘mission marks’ on the side of the fuselage. Whether the aircraft was used to conduct EW sorties during Gulf War II is unknown, but I suspect the missions were actually flown in the Mediterranean against ships of the Sixth Fleet.
By the early-1950’s the need for high-speed, long-range reconnaissance aircraft was solved by a dedicated reconnaissance version of the B-47 Stratojet. However, delays in delivering the RB-47E, led to 90 B-47’s being converted to an interim reconnaissance fit with an 8 camera bomb-bay pod and these aircraft were designated YRB-47B’s. The 91st SRW and 26th SRW at Lockbourne AFB used these aircraft until they were swapped for the new RB-47E in 1954. Delivery of the RB-47E to the USAF began in 1953 when the 55th SRW and the 90th SRW swopped their RB-50’s and RB-29s respectively for the new aircraft at Forbes AFB in Kansas. Over 240 examples of the RB-47E were eventually produced.
However, although the RB-47E conducted a variety of spectacular overflights of the Soviet Union during the 1950’s, including Murmansk, the aircraft had a fairly low operational ceiling of 40,000 feet and relied on speed, as opposed to altitude, to evade interception. Some of these flights were mounted from Thule in Greenland and probed deep into the heart of the Soviet Union, taking a photographic and radar recording of the route attacking SAC bombers would follow to reach their targets. The risks involved in mounting these dangerous sorties over some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth speaks volumes for the courage and skill of the crews involved. Flights which involved penetrating mainland Russia were termed SENSINT (Sensitive Intelligence) missions. One RB-47 even managed to fly 450 miles inland and photograph the city of Igarka in Siberia.
Two other ELINT versions of the B-47 were produced, the RB-47H and RB-47K. The 38th SRS and 346th SRS were equipped with the 35 RB-47H eventually produced; the 15 RB-47K aircraft produced were allocated to the 338th SRS in 1955-56. As well as the pilot, co-pilot and navigator, these ELINT aircraft carried 3 signals specialists, known as ‘Crows’ or ‘Ravens’, whose job was to intercept and record the various signals the plane might encounter on its sortie.
The 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) operated four detachments of RB-47 aircraft. Detachment 1 was located at RAF Brize Norton in England and generally conducted missions in the Barents Sea, North of Norway. Detachment 2 was located at Yokota in Japan and conducted operations on the borders of the USSR in the Sea of Okhotsk and along the borders of China and North Korea. Detachment 3 was located at Eielson AFB in Alaska and conducted operations around the eastern and northern borders of Siberia. Detachment 4 was based at Incirlik in near Adana in Turkey and monitored the southern borders of Russia and various areas in the Middle East.
From 1958 Det 4 used 3 specially modified Stratojets, known as EB-47E’s (Tell Two), in Operation Iron Work to monitor Soviet missile tests from Baikonur, Tyuratam and Kapustin Yar. The early EB-47E ‘Tell Two’ was easily recognisable as the aircraft were equipped with 2 large telemetry pods attached to either side of the fuselage, just aft of the nose, which intercepted data from Soviet data from missile tests. A later version of the ‘Tell Two’ housed the telemetry pods internally and had a streamlined nose. The USAF long range radar site at Samsum in Turkey, on the south cost of the Black Sea, also assisted in this activity.
Shootdowns and Incidents
By any comparison you wish to make, the B-52 must be one of the great bombers of all time. Certainly when you consider the longevity of the aircraft and the number of occasions it has been used for combat sorties, the B-52 is way ahead of any other jet bomber and the aircraft still soldiers on, showing no sign of being ready for retirement.
Designed to replace the huge Convair B-36 strategic bomber, the prototype YB-52 first flew on 15 Apr 52. However, before the bomber was actually ordered, USAF HQ had come to the decision that SAC didn't actually need a long-range bomber and wanted all the B-52's built as reconnaissance aircraft. SAC on the other hand wanted the aircraft to act as a bomber and as a reconnaissance aircraft using a pod carried in the cavernous bomb bay. In Oct 51 USAF HQ decided that the new aircraft would be built as RB-52 reconnaissance aircraft, but as they would carry their reconnaissance equipment in the bomb bay pod, SAC's view had actually prevailed. Only 3 B-52A's were built and they acted as evaluation aircraft.
A total of 50 B-52B's were built, 23 were pure bomber aircraft, the other 27 were dual-capable RB-52B's and the first aircraft was delivered on 29 Jun 55 with the last arriving in Aug 56. For a reconnaissance sortie, a large two-man pressurised capsule was winched into the bomb bay - a process that usually took about 4 hours. In case of an emergency, the capsule was provided with two downward-firing ejector seats and it could be configured for ELINT or photographic duties. For an ELINT mission the pod carried an AN/APR-14 low-frequency radar receiver, two AN/APR-9 high-frequency radr receivers, four AN/APA-11A pulse analysers, three AN/ARR-88 panoramic receivers and an AN/ANQ-1A wire recorder. For a photographic sortie the capsule carried four K-38 cameras plus one T-11 or K-36 vertical camera - the pod was also capable of carrying three T-11 cartographic cameras.
The next version of the aircraft was the B-52C which first flew on 9 Mar 56. A total of 33 B-52C's were built and all the aircraft were compatible with the bomb-bay reconnaissance capsule, although the aircraft were never designated RB-52C's. Little, if any information has been released about the operations undertaken with the RB-52B's, but life cannot have been particularly comfortable for the two 'ravens' carried in the capsule - then again, if they had previously served on RB-47's, they would be fairly well accustomed to that form of transportation. The accommodation and working conditions on the RC-135 must have seemed palatial in comparison.
The idea of using a B-52 as the worlds largest airborne jamming platform emerged during Operation Allied Force over the former republic of Yugoslavia, when the Supreme Allied Commander, a micro manager of the highest order called General Wesley Clark, issued an urgent request for additional jamming aircraft to supplement the over-stretched EA-6B Prowler fleet. The plan involved a rapid fit of ALQ-99 pods to the B-52 and by the end of the hostilities the design was finalised and the modification of an aircraft was underway. The concept of an EB-52H never actually made it into service during the conflict and many believed a B-1B or an EF/A-18G 'Growler', which could actually accompany a strike package, would do the job as well, nevertheless the concept of an EB-52 was soon reconsidered.
Since the premature retirement of the EF-111A Raven in 1998, the USAF has been forced to rely on the Grumman EA-6B Prowler for jamming support. Since 1998, and in particular following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the USA, the need for EW support aircraft has increased significantly, as US and coalition forces have been engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. The net result has been that the aging Prowlers have been in high demand and often simply have not been available.
To address this shortfall in Jul 04 it was finally decided to re-equip 16 B-52H strategic bombers to enable them to act as stand-off jammers. The aircraft will be known as the EB-52H and will have their obsolescent AN/ALR-20A Electronic Countermeasures Receiver System and AN/ALR-46 Radar Warning Receiver replaced as part of a general $48 millions Situational Awareness Defensive Improvement (SADI) programme. Then the aircraft’s ECM system will be enhanced and their two underwing fuel tanks will be replaced with two 30ft ECM antenna pods. The aircraft’s electrical system will also be strengthened to enable it to cope with the additional demands of high power jamming and the EW pods will fully integrated into the aircrafts systems and managed by the current electronic navigator’s / EW position.
The system proposed for the B-52 was known as the Stand Off Jammer System (SOJS) and it was hoped that the first systems would be operational sometime between 2010-12. However, as so often happens with complex systems that are planned to meet a multitude of different goals, requirement creep began and as a consequence costs started a continual rise from $1 billion to $7 billion. Eventually the inevitable happened and in early 2006 the SOJS was cancelled completely.
However, the requirement for a powerful stand-off jammer remained and eventually in Oct 2007 the USAF started to seek preliminary approval for a new $3.1 billion stand-off jammer programme known as the Core Component Jammer (CCJ). This time, having learnt the lessons from the failure of the SOJS, the CCJ will will focus on low-frequency, early warning radar and communications systems, utilising long-range, phased-array, 40ft long jamming pods mounted on the wingtips of the B-52. Boeing and Northrop are favourites to win the contract and would use existing knowledge and technologies to keep costs down.
Hopefully the companies that win the contract for the CCJ will realise that this time the programme must succeed; and that they, along with the USAF, will need to keep the programme requirements in check and also a tight hand on the costs - if they don't there is every chance the CCJ will suffer the same fate as the SOJS. On 23 Jun 08 Boeing received a $15 million contract to complete aircraft intergeation studies for the new phased-array wingtip pod that will form the main element of the CCJ, as well as other advanced equipment. Provided the programme goes ahead as currently planned, 34 aircraft will be modified to carry the CCJ equipment, however, as the USAF plan to buy only 24 sets of equipment, this means that only a couple of dozen aircraft will be available at any one time.
It says something about the USAF’s lack of effective forward planning and the poor appreciation of the long-term need for effective EW, that they have had to resort to using a 43 years old aircraft for this vital task. Nevertheless, along with the many other roles it has undertaken in its long career, the EB-52 will become a very effective stand –off jammer, where it’s long endurance and range will enable it to provide much needed EW support and it will still retain the ability to launch cruise missiles or drop conventional weapons from their vast bomb bay. The EB-52H’s will be based at Barksdale and Minot AFBs and are planned to be operational from 2018.
Updated - Jul 2008
As soon as the original KC-135A Stratotanker entered service it was identified as an ideal airframe that could be adapted to replace the ageing fleet of RB-47 Stratojet aircraft. The first modifications to four KC-135A tankers were CIA sponsored under the codenames ‘Iron Lung’ and ‘Briar Patch’. Known as KC-135R these aircraft were equipped for SIGINT duties, in particular for gathering data from Soviet rocket tests. The aircraft could be easily identified by a prominent antenna fence installed along the top fuselage centreline and camera windows on both sides of the fuselage. Some aircraft equipped with a capsule packed with listening gear, which was then towed behind the aircraft on a 12,000ft cable.
Among the last C-135 aircraft built were 4 aircraft modified for photographic reconnaissance duties. The aircraft were ordered to replace sixteen RB-50 Superfortresses which were engaged in aerial mapping duties. Known as the RC-135A Pacer Swan the aircraft were equipped with a camera compartment in the forward body fuel tank. After operating for over 10 years from Turner AFB, Georgia and Forbes AFB, Kansas the aircraft were converted to tanker configuration in the late 1970’s.
The RC-135B/C was the first C-135 built specifically by Boeing as a reconnaissance platform. The ten aircraft delivered were the last of the C-135 series and were known initially as the RC-135B. However, all the aircraft were delivered direct from Boeing to Glenn Martin where they were stored. Under the Big Team conversion plan the aircraft were modified, re-designated as the RB-135C and delivered to the 55th SRW at Offutt AFB to replace the units RB-47Hs. A camera was installed in the boom operators compartment, a large cheek-mounted SLAR fairing on the forward fuselage and a highly capable SIGINT suite at the heart of which lay the AN/ASD-1 automatic reconnaissance unit and the QRC-259 superheterodyne receiver. Two aircraft were later converted to RC-135Us and the remaining 8 became RC-135Vs. In July 1961, under Project ‘Speed Light’, a KC-135 was specially modified to observe a Soviet nuclear test. The aircraft subsequently flew close enough to a projected 100 megaton bomb test at Nafiazimi in the Barents Sea for the paint to be scorched. Subsequent analysis proved that the bomb was ‘only’ 58 megatons – the long-term effect on the crew of this sortie is unknown.
The next adaptation to the KC-135 resulted in the RC-135D RIVET BRASS, these aircraft were allocated to the 6th Strategic Wing based at Eielson AFB in Alaska where they operated on the eastern fringes of the Soviet Union. As well as carrying an extensive array of SIGINT equipment, the RC-135D was equipped with a variety of ‘Side Looking Airborne Radar’ (SLAR) housed in fairings along the side of the forward fuselage.
The 6th Strategic Wing at Eielson also received the next variant the RC-135E RIVET AMBER. One C-135B aircraft, 62-4137 nicknamed 'Lisa Ann', was converted to this configuration in 1963 to fly reconnaissance missions from Shemya AFB, targeted against the Soviet re-entry range off the Kamchatka Peninsula. The right forward door and fuselage were replaced by a 12 x 20 foot fibreglass panel built by Goodyear. Inside the forward fuselage Hughes installed the largest and most powerful airborne radar ever built with a 7.5 megawatts peak power. Each pulse of energy was pointed by a computer generated word which determined the frequency shift and phase of the signal. The system gathered trajectory information prior to and during re-entry of ballistic warheads, as well as radar cross-section data; a camera port also allowed photography of missile re-entry vehicles. The aircraft was only operated from Eielson, had a tragically short service life and crashed in the Bering Strait on 5th June 1969 with the loss of all 19 crew. Click here to read a detailed report into the circumstances surrounding the loss of Rivet Amber - submitted by Ron Strong.
During the Vietnam War six RC-135M RIVET CARD aircraft of the 82nd SRS were tasked for SIGINT missions against the Chinese mainland as Soviet targets in the Petropavlovsk region. Carrying a large crew of ‘Ravens’, these ‘Combat Apple’ sorties were flown in the Gulf of Tonkin and often lasted 19 hours with 12 hours spent ‘on-station’. The ELINT and COMINT gathered by these aircraft were vital, allowing other US aircraft to be warned of MiG and SAM activity – on occasions these aircraft also controlled and co-ordinated aircrew rescue activity. The 6 aircraft were extensively re-built under the BIG SAFARI programme during early 1980s and re-designated
Five C-135B aircraft were converted to the RC-135S RIVET BALL / COBRA BALL configuration with a wide variety of receivers and antennas all designed to collect ‘TELINT’ – telemetry from Soviet rocket launches. In the original configuration the aircraft also had a series of camera portholes along the starboard side of the front fuselage. To ensure reflections did not affect photography, the upper surface of the starboard wing was painted black. The aircraft were operated by the 24th SRS from Eielson AFB, Alaska with a detachment to Shemya AB in the Aleutian Islands. Note: The ‘Cobra’ codename was used to identify various systems used since 1961 to monitor Soviet missile tests; the phased array radar on Shemya Island was Cobra Dane, a ship, the ‘Observation Island’, equipped with a variety of long-range radar’s was Cobra Judy and an Over The Horizon (OTH) radar at Orford Ness in Suffolk, England Cobra Mist. One Cobra Ball aircraft crashed at Shemya AB, Alaska in 1981 killing 6 crewmen. The latest version of the Cobra Ball, delivered in 1999, can take observations from both sides of the aircraft. These 3 aircraft operate with the 55th SRS Wg based at Offut AB Nebraska.
Three RC-135C aircraft were converted into the RC-135U COMBAT SENT+ configuration. These aircraft were fitted with highly classified ELINT equipment along with a huge SLAR and were particularly active during the Vietnam War. One aircraft was later re-configured and re-designated as an RC-135V. Two Combat Sent equipped aircraft are still in service with the 55th SRW at Offut AFB, Nebraska and take very precise measurements of emissions of foreign electronic equipment.
Seven RC-135C airframes and one RC-135U were converted into the RC-135V RIVIT JOINT configuration. RC135V Rivit Joint This variant was the first to incorporate both cheek antenna fairings and a hog nose radome. A variety of antennas also protrude out the top and bottom of the fuselage.
All 6 RC-135M aircraft were converted to RC-135W RIVIT JOINT configuration and 3 other aircraft were also converted. Like the RC-135V, this aircraft has large cheek antennas and a hog nose. Fours large MUCELS antennas are also mounted on the bottom of the fuselage. Sixteen Rivet Joint aircraft, specialising in signals and communications intelligence, operate with the 55th SRW at Offut AFB Nebraska.
One EC135B was rebuilt and designated RC-135X COBRA EYE. The equipment installed was intended to gather imagery of Soviet missile tests as part of the SDI programme. The equipment was designed to optically identify and discriminate Soviet ballistic missile re-entry vehicles in mid-course. After a 6 year development programme the aircraft was delivered to the 24th SRS at Eielson AFB on 16 July 1989 and it generally operated from Shemya AB observing Soviet ballistic missile tests. On 22 Feb 93 the aircraft was withdrawn from use and placed in long-term storage. In 1999 this aircraft was re-configured and entered service as a RC-135S Cobra Ball.
Although the 16 RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft still in service are old airframes, the electronic interior is state of the art for intelligence gathering and the equipment is upgraded every 3 or 4 years. Originally the aircraft’s role was entirely passive – simply listening in to radio traffic. Now the role encompasses the interception, altering and reinsertion of every kind of electronic messages and continues to grow as C3 systems become ever more complex.
Israel uses 3 converted B-707 aircraft as dual ELINT/tankers. These aircraft are designated EC/RC-707 and are operated by the 134th Squadron from Tel Aviv’s International Airport. As part of the Middle East Peace Accord, Israel hopes to procure between 3 and 6 aircraft of Rivet Joint capability from the USA.
The USAF RC-135s continue to operate and perhaps surprisingly there is even more demand for their operations than during the last years of the Cold War.. The fleet of RC-135 RIVET JOINT aircraft is logging so many hours that congressional committees authorised funds to expand and upgrade the fleet in 1995.
RIVET JOINTS remain amongst the most secret of all American covert operations. They are intercepting communications from Bosnia to the Middle East. With their state-of-the -art electronics they conduct a wide range of intelligence gathering from identifying hostile Bosnian Serb radar’s and surface-to-air missile sites through to monitoring Indian missile tests. The aircraft are part of the United States comprehensive intelligence gathering operating also involving spy satellites, AWACS and U-2 aircraft . Their intelligence is carefully sifted to provide the one the ground commanders with an overview. It is worth noting that here were no RIVET JOINTS operating on 2nd June 1995 when the F-16 piloted by Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady was downed by a Serb SA-6. A RIVET JOINT in the area would have provided immediate warning of that the SA-6's radar was tracking F-16. The limited number of RC-135s available for Bosnia missions meant that no plane was in orbit when the F-16 was patrolling . In an attempt to prevent a repetition RC-135 missions were lengthened from eight to ten hours.
According to an Air Combat Command spokesman, RIVET JOINT are among the Air Force's most heavily deployed aircraft, and the fleet have 153 days overseas in 1995 up eight days from 1994. During the Gulf War in 1990, RIVET JOINT aircraft were on a 24 hour operation along the Saudi-Iraqi border ". At least two RC-135s remain station. In February the 1000th RC-135 mission was flown, supporting United States, British and French forces, enforcing the UN sanctions against Iraq. RC-135s flying from RAF Mildenhall, England, have been used to collect intelligence on Bosnian targets and pick up the rescue beacons from U.S. and NATO fliers - as they did in April 1993, when they detected the signal from a downed French pilot. An example of its quick deployment capability, in early January 1994, a COBRA BALL aircraft deployed off the Bay of Bengal within 48 hours from its base in Diego Garcia. The plane monitored any Indian test of its medium range Agni missile that took place over the bay - such as the one launched in February 1994. Aircraft have been stationed on Souda Bay, Greece. When deployed, they can monitor tests of Israeli and Iranian missiles.
In August 1995 a COBRA BALL was sent to monitor Chinese missile tests near Taiwan. While refusing to discuss specifics of COBRA BALL deployments, Siniscalchi noted the planes "had emerged to be more of a world-wide type of platform". In contrast to the RIVET JOINT and COMBAT SENT planes, COBRA BALL sorties have decreased significantly from 200 in 1988 to less than 100 per year under present circumstances. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in its 1996 authorisation report, expressed its concern with the RIVET JOINT's "extraordinary number of annual flight hours" and recommended an authorisation of $79.5 million to begin re-engining the fleet. It also instructed the Defence Airborne Reconnaissance Office to budget the funds required to continue re-engining in "fiscal year 1997 and beyond".
The comment reflects the Select Committee's concern, shared by the Senate Armed Services Committee, that DARO is interested in new development programmes, instead of upgrading current reconnaissance platforms. The armed services panel in its fiscal 1996 authorisation bill, earmarked $79.5 million to transform two EC-135 aircraft into RIVET JOINT aircraft - noting the aircraft's "critical role". The House Appropriations Committee agreed, while the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence authorised funding for converting only one plane.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also recommended an additional expenditure of $28 million to "initiate the migration of COBRA BALL medium wave infrared acquisition technology "to the RIVET JOINT fleet. The committee viewed this as cost-effective means of improving theatre-missile defence long-range surveillance, warning and rapid cueing for attack operations as well as impact prediction for both active and passive defence measures. Re-engining was first proposed in a 1989 classified General Accounting Office report and again in a 1992-unclassified version. The latter report noted that 100 RC-135 missions were flown each month, with about 18,000 hours of flying time being logged annually. Re-engining would involve replacing the four TF-33 engines on each plane with CFM-56 engines.
According to the GAO's 1992 report, "New RC-135 Aircraft Engines Can Reduce Cost and Improve Performance." Re-engining the entire 21 aircraft fleet would cost $602 million more than minimum upgrade of the TF-33 engines required to keep the RC135s flying until 2020. However, there would be a projected cost savings of almost $1.5 billion, when factoring in the money saved on fuel, maintenance and tanker support. Installation of the CFM-56 engines would increase aircraft reliability and unrefuelled flight time by as much as four hours, while decreasing pollution. There would also be several operational advantages to re-engining, according to GAO. Overseas basing options, presently restricted to airfields with 10,000 foot runways, would be expanded to include those aiefields with 8,000 foot runways. In its 1992 report, GAO noted that there was only one military airfield in the Mediterranean ( Souda Bay, Greece) with a 10,000 foot runway.
The new engines would also allow the aircraft to fly at 40,000 feet rather than its present 35,000 feet. The additional 5,000 feet would enhance performance of the aircraft’s intelligence collection sensors by expanding their field of view and area coverage. The expanding field of view also would allow the planes to conduct surveillance operations at greater stand-off ranges, beyond the reach of surface-to-air weapons.
For a number of years three Gulfstream IIIs were operated by Esk 721 of the Kongelige Danske Flyvevabnet – a squadron of the Royal Danish Air Force that were based at Vaerlose. Specially equipped with radar and an electro-optical system, these 3 aircraft were used as VIP transports, but their main role was to mount maritime patrols within the Danish Exclusive Economic Zone that covers the seas around the Faeroe Islands and Greenland. In Aug 1996 one of the 3 Gulfstream III's, serial number F-330, was lost when the aircraft crashed on approach to Vagar in the Faroe Islands. To replace this aircraft a civilian Gulfstream III was hired from Air Flite for one year.
RDAF Challenger 604 MMA
Rather than spend money on an expensive mid-life upgrade on the Gulfstream IIIs, Denmark decided to order 3 specially adapted versions of the Bombardier Challenger 604. After construction the first aircraft to be converted, C-168 (c/n 5468) was delivered to the Field Aviation modification centre at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on 11 Jul 02. To convert the basic passenger design into a Multi- Mission Aircraft (MMA), Field Aviation installed a large 3.6m long radome under the forward fuselage, together with a sliding-door mechanism to accommodate a retractable electro-optical turret in the rear fuselage.
Telephonics APS-143B(V)3 OceanEye
The primary sensor for the Challenger 604 MMA is a Telephonics APS-143B(V)3 OceanEye inverse aperture maritime surveillance radar housed in the radome under the forward fuselage. The rear fuselage houses a FLIR Systems Inc Star Safire II electro-optical sensor, providing a comprehensive day/night capability.
FLIR Systems Inc Star Safire II
Esk 721 moved from Vaerlose to Aalborg on 1 Mar 04 and recently took delivery of the first Challenger 604 MMA. The remaining two aircraft, C-080 (c/n 5380) and C-172 (c/n 5472), are currently under conversion and will probably be delivered later this year. From their new base, Esk 721 will continue to undertake the occasional medevac, as well as providing VIP transport when required. However, their main role will continue to be maritime surveillance for the safeguarding of fisheries, environmental protection, ice reconnaissance and search and rescue operations around the Faeroe Islands and Greenland, where these capable aircraft should be well suited to this wide-ranging task.
Designed back in the early 1960’s the Britten-Norman Islander has proved to be a versatile and popular aircraft with over 1,230 examples of the basic model and various derivatives having been sold. Unfortunately various financial troubles over the years inhibited the development of the Islander; however, in April 2000 after yet another final crisis, two Omani brothers purchased the business and assets from the receiver and formed the B-N Group to continue marketing the aircraft.
A military version of the Islander, known as the Defender, was first flown in 1971 and was based on the BN-2B version with under-wing hard points and other equipment for light troop transport and ground support roles. In 1989 the British Army Air Corps ordered five BN-2T Turbine Islanders to replace their DHC-2 Beavers. These aircraft were fitted with surveillance equipment and operated out of Aldergrove in Northern Island in support of UK forces engaged in counter-terrorist operations. The three aircraft were fitted with AN/ALQ-144 jamming pod, a Lockheed Martin IRCM suite and a recce fit which included a door-mounted Zeiss 610 camera, a vertical Zeiss Trilens 80 mm and a second vertical camera fit, consisting of an F126, or a Zeiss RMK or two KS-153 cameras, or a Vinten F143 panoramic camera. Two additional Defenders were added to the Army Air Corps fleet in 1990 and with and extensive communications and COMINT fit, these seven these aircraft proved invaluable.
CASTOR Islander ZG989
The most unusual looking BN-2T Islander was ZG989 which was modified in 1984 as part of the British Army Corps Airborne Stand-Off Radar) CASTOR programme to carry a large radar in a nose radome. However, the limited performance of the aircraft restricted it’s capabilities and the programme eventually evolved into the current Sentinel R1 which is about to enter service with the RAF. After a number of years in storage, the aircraft was sighted in February 2006 flying again in an Army Air Corps paint scheme, although it is not known what equipment the aircraft was carrying.
AEW BN-2T Defender
An AEW Defender, fitted with a Thorn EMI Skymaster radar was later marketed and appeared at a number of airshows. The fuselage was fitted with two operators consoles equipped with 14in colour displays and from 10,000ft the radar had an effective range of around 100nm. Despite appearing to offer an affordable capability at an economic price, once again the limited performance of the aircraft convinced those interested in acquiring an AEW system to look elsewhere and when no buyers appeared, the project was dropped.
AAC Defender 4S AL Mk1
In 2003, as UK forces began attempting to stabilise the situation in Iraq, an urgent operational requirement was raised for the purchase of three Defenders under a £10 million contract. These aircraft, known as the Defender 4S AL Mk1, were fitted with two under-wing defensive aids dispensers, as well as an electro-optical turret under the nose. Various cameras are also mounted in the cabin and look out through the floor of the aircraft. From the number of external aerials, I would also imagine these aircraft are also fitted with a COMNIT system and an IRCM suite. The first aircraft was delivered just nine months after the contract was let and they are normally based at Basra.
BN-2A Islander with SELEX underwing sensors
The current military version of the Islander is known as the Defender 4000 is powered by two 400shp Rolls-Royce 250-17F/1 turboprops and has a maximum take-off weight of 8,500lbs. At the 2006 Farnborough static park was a BN-2A Islander fitted out for maritime reconnaissance with a Titan 385 electro-optical turret in the nose, housing a low-light TV system. Two under wing pods house four Skyguardian 2000 antennas, referred to as the Passive Localiser System (PALS) under development by SELEX. The cabin houses various displays on two operator’s consoles. This system, integrated onto a Defender 4000, has been developed to meet an Iraqi Air Force requirement for up to 24 surveillance aircraft.
RAF Islander CC2 ZH536
The RAF operate two Marks of Islander, they are known as a CC.2 (ZH536) and a CC.2A (ZF573) and form the Station Flight at RAF Northolt near London. These two aircraft are flown in a classified surveillance role, aimed at picking up communications between individuals judged as posing a threat to the UK.
Spain is the sole operator of two CASA C-212-200 Aviocars serial numbers TM.12D-72 ‘408-01’ and TM.121D-73 ‘408-02’ – both aircraft are operated by Escuadron 408 at Torrejon. The aircraft are easily identified by a circular radome mounted on top of the tailfin. The relatively small size of these aircraft and their endurance of around 5½ hours limits their suitability for operational missions and it is believed that both aircraft have now been relegated to operator training duties to which they are more suited.
There is some evidence that Angola might well also operate the Aviocar in a SIGINT role. It is believed that the aircraft are optimised for COMINT and have a similar external appearance to the Spanish aircraft – which may well indicate their origin.
The South African Air Force is known to operate at least one Cessna Ce208 Caravan 1 fitted with an unknown reconnaissance pod in place of the standard baggage pod. The capabilities of the pod are unknown but, as the aircraft appears to lack any internal consoles, it is assumed that the aircraft either stores the photographic or ELINT data or relays it to a ground station.
AirScan Inc is a company based in Florida which specialises in providing air to ground surveillance using a variety of aircraft and frequently operate on contract to the US government. AirScan Inc use specially adapted civilian aircraft to enable them to maintain a 'low-profile' whilst engaged in operations, frequently from civil airports.
AirScan Inc Cessna 337
AirScan Inc were awarded a contract to conduct surveillance operations in Macedonia, operating from Petrovec Airport, near Skopje in support of NATO peacekeeping operations. To conduct these operations, AirScan operated a Cessna 337H, registered N729AS (c/n33802938) fitted with a FLIR-type ball under the port wing and a podded weather radar under the starboard wing.
The Hellenic Maritime Patrol Agency has signed a contract for the supply of 2 Cessna 406 aircraft. The aircraft will be fitted with Flight Systems' Incorporated FLIR sensors and two Bendix RDR-1500B SLAR supplied by the Swedish Space Corporation.
The activities of a special paramilitary unit of the CIA, known as the Special Operations Group (SOG) which is part of the Special Activities Division (SAD), first came to public attention when they were deployed to Afghanistan, as part of the effort to destroy Al Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban.
The SOG/SAD was the brainchild of George Tenet, head of the CIA, who wanted to establish an operational arm of the CIA which could take covert and overt action against terrorists. The division is believed to have around 150 members although it’s actual size is classified, and is made up of highly experienced, recently retired, special operations personnel, Army Special Forces, Marines Delta Force and Navy SEALS.
The SOG/SAD also includes within its members a number of experienced pilots who operate various aircraft used to transport and support the other personnel. Although, for obvious reasons, it is impossible to know the full extent of unit’s complement of aircraft, some have been identified. In addition, the US Air Force have acquired a number of Russian aircraft which they probably ‘borrow’ whenever necessary.
A number of DHC-6 Twin Otter’s have been identified as being operated by US ‘Government Agencies’, or perhaps it’s the same aircraft with various registrations. In Apr 80 this aircraft, with the registration N79582, was photographed whilst it was based in Oman and had been used to conduct night missions into Iran to survey landing zones for the eventual disasterous mission to rescue the American hostages held in Teheran.
CIA DHC-6 Twin Otter
This aircraft, registration N6161Q, belonging to Aviation Specialists Inc, was seen at Sherkat in Afghanistan in Nov 01 transporting a number of extremely fit looking ‘journalists’. The aircraft is equipped with a number of very unusual blade antennae on the upper fuselage.
Teppa Aviation CIA L-100-30
The CIA and other US agencies also use chartered aircraft to support their activities. The Lockheed L-100-30, a 'civil' version of the C-130 Hurcules, is a particulary popular aircraft for obvious reasons. One company reported to have strong CIA links is Teppa Aviation, who operate a number of L-100-30's and are widely believed to have undertaken a number of clandestine missions on behalf of the CIA.
A 486th FTW C-32B
The US Air Forces 486th Flight Test Wing operates a number of Boeing 757s, known as C-32Bs, on behalf of the US State Department, that are used by either the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Foreign Emergency Support Team, but always tends to appear in unusual places where the SOG subsequently operate. This aircraft is believed to have flown into Tashkent transporting SOG personnel into Uzbekistan in preparation for operations against Afghanistan. Unless I am very much mistaken, on 29 Feb 04 a very similar white 757 was used to spirit Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the failed President of Haiti, out of the country and into exile in the Central African Republic.
Another mystery 757
This US State Department Boeing 757 was seen in Cape Town where it deployed a Foreign Emergency Support Team in response to an anticipated terrorist attack on the ambassador. The aircraft was displaying a US Air Force serial number which was probably bogus. On 1 May 03 a C-32B of the 486th FTW was involved in a landing accident at the North Auxiliary Air Base, South Carolina when the nosewheel is believed to have collapsed following a heavy landing.
DASH8 N505LL OAKB 3APR02
This aircraft, registration N505LL, is one of a number of US registered DHC Dash 8’s, that have been observed operating into and out of Kabul in support of CIA operations in Afghanistan. The aircraft are used to transport US SF personnel around the country to various small airstrips.
This Antonov An-2 is operated by the 16 SOW based at Hurlburt Field, Florida. It is believed that this aircraft and the other ex-Soviet aircraft that have been acquired by the US SF to enable them to operate in certain countries without attracting attention,
This Antonov An-32 is also operated by the 16 SOW based at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
USAF SF CASA CN-235
The USAF SOC also operate one CASA CN-235 which is based with the 427th Special Operations Squadron at Pope AFB in North Carolina. The aircraft is believed to be used to insert SF personnel at small airfields for covert counter insurgency operations,
One of the essential criteria of the early jet powered reconnaissance aircraft was the ability to cruise above 40,000 feet, a level determined by knowledge of the capability of Russian air defence radar’s. The main Russian air defence radar in the 1950’s was the American supplied SCR-270, or locally made copies, which were only effective up to 40,000 feet – in theory an aircraft cruising above this level would remain undetected. The first aircraft, which put this theory to the test, was the Convairr RB-36D, a massive aircraft with 6 piston ‘pusher’ engines and 4 small turbojets, which gave the ‘aluminium overcast’ an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet with no less than 14 cameras. Later a lightweight version of this aircraft, the RB-36-III, could even reach 58,000ft.
RB36e from level starboard
In 1951 RB-36D’s, with a range of 9,300 miles, began probing the boundaries of the Soviet Arctic and were rather disturbed to find their onboard equipment indicating that they had been detected by Soviet radar – so much for the theory. However, detecting aircraft on ground-based radar was one thing, intercepting them was far more difficult. A number of overflights of Soviet bases in the arctic, particularly the new nuclear weapons test complex at Novaya Zemlya, were made by RB-36 aircraft operating from Sculthorpe.
RB-36F 1 CF 49 2708
Like all early jet fighters, the MIG-15 was essentially a ‘day’ fighter and carried no radar, making interceptions in anything other than good weather very difficult, furthermore, the MIG-15 also lacked the necessary operational ceiling and range to effectively intercept the RB-36D. In fact the Soviet Air Defence Command lacked an all-weather fighter, equipped with a search radar, until the Yak-25 Flashlight entered service in 1956.
Another option considered for the B-36 was as ‘carriers’ for smaller, faster reconnaissance aircraft, such as the RF-84F Thunderflash, which were termed ‘parasites’. In 1952 after a series of trials under Project FICON (Fighter Conveyer) ten B-36D’s were converted to carrier aircraft and given the designation GRB-36D – these aircraft retained their cameras but, apart from the tail gun, all other defensive and ECM equipment was removed. Twenty-five RF-84F aircraft were converted to parasites and given the designation RF-84K – these aircraft were equipped with 5 cameras and still carried four 0.5 machineguns.
The GRB-36D’s and RF-84K’s conducted various trials between 1954-5, but encountered numerous problems and the idea was eventually abandoned as too risky after only one year. Although the GRB-36D / RF-84K combination were deployed to Fairchild and Larson bases in Washington state between 1955-6, there is no evidence that the combination were ever used for an actual operational sortie. When subsequent developments in air-to-air refuelling became more successful it made the risky FICON concept far less attractive and the programme was discontinued.
From the late 1940's, Convair had been engaged in studies to design an advanced long-range subsonic bomber. Over the next few years various proposal by Convair and other firms were considered and the specification for the new bomber was slowly increased. In Dec 51 the USAF published a General Operational Requirement (GOR) for a strategic bombardment system (SAB-51) with a minimum operational radius using the single refuelling concept of 2000 nautical miles, a 2300 nautical mile radius at 50,000 ft, low altitude capability at high subsonic speed and maximum supersonic capability. The GOR for a strategic reconnaissance system (SAR-51) outlined a similar aircraft requirement. After a bid from Boeing was rejected, Convair were given the go ahead for a full scale Phase 1 development contract using as a basis a design known as MX-1964 - this was the aircraft that became the B-58 Hustler.
The B-58 was a highly advanced design for its time and featured a 60º delta wing with 4 GE J79-5A turbojet engines mounted separately underneath. Below the fuselage a large two-piece strike pod was designed to house both fuel and a nuclear weapon. In a later version the pod was split into two, the 54 foot lower element of the pod was designed to be dropped when empty of fuel before the run into the target. The 35 foot long upper pod would then be jettisoned over the target. Many new materials and design techniques were employed in the construction of the B-58. The aircraft carried 3 crew in separate tandem cockpits, a pilot, a bombardier/navigator and a defence systems operator. Each cockpit had an individual escape capsule that could be closed and pressurised in 7 seconds, allowing the crews to operate safely at high level without the need to wear bulky pressure suits. The B-58 first flew on 11 Nov 56 and 116 aircraft were eventually built.
B-58 with LA-331 pod
In 1963 it was decided to give 45 B-58 aircraft a reconnaissance capability and these aircraft were modified to allow the carriage of ten modified MB-1C pods, re-designated the LA-331 pod. The LA-331 pod was equipped with a KA-56 low altitude panoramic camera mounted in the nose behind a V shaped optical glass port. The system was designed to provide horizon-to-horizon coverage from low altitudes at high speed. The control panel for the camera was mounted in the bombardier/navigator's cockpit and was interchangeable with the weapon monitor and release panel for the strike pod. The 43rd Bomber Wong at Carswell AFB was selected to operate the LA-331 pods and prove the concept and in Jan 64 the designated crews were checked and declared operationally ready. The reconnaissance capability of the B-58's of the 43rd BW equipped with the LA-331 pod was employed on a number of occasions, mainly to provide quick photographs of natural disasters to enable a rapid assessment of the relief resources required. Other specialised pods were built, such as the MD-1 ECM pod which never flew. However, a radar reconnaissance pod containing the Hughes AN/APQ-69 SLAR was flown in the early 1959. These tests led to a more compact version of the SLAR, the AN/APS-73, being fitted in a pod and during the Cuban Missile crisis a Hustler equipped with this pod overflew Cuba, the only time a Hustler was used on an operational mission.
The last 17 service test aircraft built were completed as RB-58A reconnaissance bombers. It was planned to equip these aircraft with a dedicated reconnaissance pod, designated the MC-1, built by Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company. The MC-1 pod contained three 36" focal length cameras in a stabilised mount to provide vertical and side obliques, a tri-camera system consisting of three 6" focal length cameras to provide vertical and side obliques, one 3" focal length forward oblique camera, a camera control system, a nose mounted television view finder, an operator's console unit, a fan of five 3" focal length cameras, a Melpar recording system, a Sperry navigation system and a Raytheon search radar scope camera. Total sensor weight was 998lbs. The equipment could be carried in two configurations, a high-low altitude configuration or a low altitude configuration. In Jul 55, because of funding limitations, the reconnaissance pod and its various systems were cancelled. Although the programme was reinstated in Sep 55, it was finally cancelled completely on early 58 following completion of a single pod that was never actually flown. The cancellation of the reconnaissance pod to equip the RB-58A is hardly surprising when you consider that by early 1958 the U-2 was operating routinely over the USSR and that planning for the A-12, which eventually led to the SR-71, was already underway. Consequently, with tactical and strategic reconnaissance already well catered for, there was little if any support for the additional costs involved in providing a reconnaissance capability for the RB-58A and the aircraft were eventually converted into standard B-58A's or TB-58A trainers.
B-58 taking off
The B-58 was a highly advanced aircraft and the first supersonic bomber built in the West. The aircraft set many international records, a number of which still stand. However, as the air defences of the Soviet Union improved the viability of the B-58 came into question, in addition, the wear and tear of operating a heavy bomber at supersonic speeds and high utilisation rates resulted in unusually high fatigue rates. Added to this were the aircraft's range limitations, it's poor safety record and it's significantly higher than anticipated production, maintenance and support costs. The high costs were best illustrated by the fact that the cost of maintaining and operating two B-58 wings equalled that of six wings of B-52's. In the end all these factors, together with a deep rooted dislike of the aircraft by SAC, resulted in a decision in Oct 69 to retire all the aircraft by 31 Jan 70, after only 10 years operational service and by Jan 71 all the aircraft were in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB - two years later, apart from a number of aircraft donated to museums, all the remaining aircraft had been reduced to scrap, a sad end to a spectacular aircraft.
On 8th Apr 1950 a version of the wartime Liberator bomber, the PB4Y-2 Privateer 59645 operated by VP-26 of the US Navy Detachment A, based at Port Lyautey in French Morocco, became the first casualty of the missions to probe the boundaries of the USSR. Commanded by Lt Jack Fette, the aircraft took off from Wiesbaden in West Germany and headed north towards the Baltic. The plan was for the aircraft to gather intelligence on Soviet naval activity along the Latvian coast.
PB4Y-2 Privateer 59645
Near the Latvian port of Liepaja the PB4Y-2 was intercepted by a number of Soviet fighter aircraft and was eventually shot down by a Lovochkin LA-11 (Fang) fighter flown by Lt Ivan Ivanovich Tezyaev. The other pilots who were also involved were St Lt's Boris Pavlovich, Anatolii Stepanovich Gerasimov and Lt Yevgraph Sataev - all were also flying LA-11 aircraft.
It was believed at first that all 10 crew members of the PB4Y-2 died when the aircraft crashed into the sea between 5 and 10 km off the coast. The Russians eventually admitted that they had shot down the aircraft, which they incorrectly identified as a B-29, but insisted the aircraft was over 13 miles inside Soviet airspace at the time of the incident. However, the overwhelming evidence suggests that the aircraft was in International airspace out over the Baltic when it was attacked. As well as Jack Fette, the other crew members were: Howard W Seeschaf, Robert D Reynolds, Tommy L Burgess, Frank L Beckman, Joe H Danens, Jack W Thomas, Joseph J Bourassa, Edward J Purcell and Joseph N Rinnier Jr. Reports were later received that at least one crewmember from this aircraft was sighted in 1950 and 1953 in a Soviet Prison Camp near Taishet. When questioned by other prisoners one of the crewmen stated that they were serving a 25 year sentence for espionage.
Despite protest notes to the USSR, the Soviets continued to deny any knowledge of the crewmen and all those who survived the crash are presumed to have suffered a lonely death, somewhere in captivity in the frozen wastes of the USSR.
Dirk Pohlmann has made a German documentary film about this incident and you can read his report on the loss of the PB4Y-2 here.
In the mid 1960’s 21 unarmed IVP reconnaissance versions of the Etendard were purchased for Flottille 16F operating from the aircraft carrier Clemenceau. These aircraft are equipped with the OMERA nose-mounted camera.
The commercial success of the Falcon 20 encouraged various air forces to consider also utilising this aircraft for EW and SIGINT operations. Spain is known to operate two ex-VIP Falcon 20s with Escuadron 408 at Torrejon in the COMINT role, serial numbers TM.11-3 ‘408-11’ and TM.11-3 ‘408-12’.
The 2 aircraft were modified by AISA at Cuatro Vientos using Spanish developed electronics and are easily identified by two large blade aerials mounted on the top of the fuselage. The Falcon 20’s endurance of 4 hours limits the aircraft’s radius of action to Spain’s maritime borders and the North African coast.
Pakistan also operates two Dassault Falcon 20 aircraft for ELINT/ECM tasks which are usually targeted against India
A modified version of the F1 fighter version, this aircraft was designed as a replacement for the Mirage IIIR/RD. All aircraft are equipped with a fixed in-flight refuelling probe. Reconnaissance equipment includes: an Omera 35 oblique frame camera, an Omera 40 panorama camera and an IR sensor. External pods house additional optical and EM sensors.
A total of 64 aircraft were ordered for the Armee de l’Air and delivery to the 3 dedicated reconnaissance squadrons of 33e wing began in 1983.00
The Dassault Mirage IIIR was a development of the Mirage IIIE fighter which saw distinguished service with a number of countries, most notably the IAF during the Six Day War in the Middle East. Designed as a dedicated reconnaissance aircraft to replace the RF-86F in the Armee de l’Air, the aircraft eventually equipped 3 squadrons 3/33, 2/33 and 1/33.
Mirage IIIRD Nose
The main difference between this aircraft and the fighter version involved the removal of the Cyrano radar from the nose and replacing it with up to 5 Omera Type 31 optical cameras configured for either low, medium or high altitude photography. The IIIRD version was equipped with a chin bulge for doppler radar, a gyro sight and a modified nose pack containing Omera Type 40 and 33 cameras. The 5R version was a similar conversion of the Mirage 5. Since 1071 the SAT Cyclope 160 A5 Infra Red Linescan was often installed in the nose.
Operators include: France (IIIR and RD), South Africa (IIIRZ, R2Z), Pakistan (IIIRP), Switzerland (IIIRS), Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Colombia, Egypt, and Libya (5R).
The use by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) of their version of the Mirage III, the Mirage IIICJ, during the Six Day War did more for sales of a particular aircraft than any other event in military aviation. When the order for 76 aircraft was placed by the IAF, it was sub-divided into 70 Mirage IIICJs, 2 reconnaissance Mirage IIIRJs and 4 Mirage IIIBJ two-seat trainers. However, before the pre-emptive strike Israeli Mirage IIIRJ 799 with the Universal nose of 5 Jun 67, the IAF had already used the capability of their 2 reconnaissance Mirage IIIRJs (serial numbers 98 and 99) to conduct reconnaissance sorties against the surrounding Arab states. Israeli industry had developed a removable nose section for the two Mirage IIIRJs which could house a variety of cameras. The two Mirage IIIRJs gave many years of valuable service before they were eventually replaced by the McDonnell Douglas RF-4E.
Click here to read a detailed report about the various Isreali Mirage III photographic reconnaissance aircraft and their unique recce noses - submitted by Sariel Stiller.
Originally designed as a high speed strategic bomber to deliver the French nuclear bomb as part of the Force de Frappe, 62 Mirage IV aircraft were built and equipped 3 Escadres; 91 at Mont de Marsan, 93 at Istres and 94 at Avord from the early 1960’s. Essentially a scaled up Mirage III fighter, the Mirage IV carries a crew of 2 in tandem cockpits. With external tanks the aircraft's still air range is 2484 miles. To enable the aircraft to operate safely from dispersed airfields with fairly short runways, twelve booster rockets could provide additional thrust on take-off. Rather disturbingly for the crews, had they ever been tasked to attack Russia the aircraft were only capable of a 'one-way' mission. That said, as there wouldn't have been much for the crews to return home to, I suppose it was decided that, if the crunch ever came, it really wouldn't matter much anyway.
Mirage IV with JATO
Twelve aircraft were later converted into dedicated reconnaissance aircraft and redesignated to IV R. Initially the aircraft carried the CT 52 strategic reconnaissance pod which contained vertical, oblique and forward cameras - typically three OMERA 36 cameras for high altitude work, three OMERA 35 cameras for low level work and a Wildt mapping camera. As an alternative, a SAT Super Cyclone infra-red linescan unit can replace the OMERA 36 cameras. The five aircraft that remain in service are still highly capable and in recent years have flown operational sorties over Bosina, Afganistan and Iraqi. It will be a sad day when the remaining examples of this graceful and unique aircraft finally retire.
Five aircraft were converted in the early 1970’s under the ‘Peace Peek’ project by the American E-Systems Corporation. A further update to the aircraft cost $49.9M in 1980. The aircraft are used by the West German Naval Air Service for SIGINT & COMINT duties over the Baltic.
The aircraft are easily recognised by a large black ventral radome in weapons bay, longitudinal pods on the wingtips and a small radome on top of vertical stabiliser. One aircraft crashed, the remaining 4 serve as part of the 2nd Staffel of Marinefliegergeschwader 2 at Nordholz alongside standard Atlantic’s.
The French Navy have also used Atlantic’s in a SIGINT role during the conflict in Chad.
By 2006 only three of the original five aircraft remained in service. Under current plans one further aircraft will be retired in Jan 2007 and the final aircraft will be withdrawn from service in Jan 2010. From 2010 the SIGINT Atlantic's role will be undertaken by five Northrop/Grumman/EADS RQ-4B Eurohawks, a version of the Global Hawk, but fitted with an EADS developed SIGINT payload.
Updated 8 Oct 06
For a number of years the US Army has operated a small fleet of specially modified Dash 7 turboprops as intelligence gathering aircraft. The aircraft were equipped by Northolt Grumman, are painted in a ‘civilian’ paint scheme and have been given the overall designation RC-7B ARL (Airborne Reconnaissance Low). RC7B x 2 One RC-7B was configured for imagery only but was destroyed when it crashed on 23 Jul 1999 during operations in Colombia. Two RC-7B’s were configured for COMINT only and were designated ARL-C. Five other aircraft are also equipped with a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and various imaging sensors these aircraft are designated ARL-M.
Two ARL-Ms are equipped with the Super Hawk communications intercept and emitter direction finding subsystem and are assigned to Fort Bliss in Texas. The three remaining ARL-M aircraft are fitted with a different subsystem and are based in South Korea. The US Army is hoping to take delivery of a 6th ARL-M in 2003.
|ARL-C||EO-5B||48||N705GG||Upgrade to ARL-M|
|ARL-C||EO-5B||104||N53993||Upgrade to ARL-M|
The 2 ARL-C aircraft will be upgraded to ARL-M standard in the near future. On 20 Nov 01 Northrop Grumman were awarded a $9M contract for the acquisition and integration of a replacement for the ARL-I which crashed in 1999 delivery is planned for Jul 2003. In the longer term the US Army is looking to replace both the RC-7B and RC-12 fleets with 45 new reconnaissance aircraft called the ‘Aerial Common Sensor’ to enter service in 2006, although some RC-7B’s could remain in service until 2017
One of the RAF’s more unusual spyplanes was the de Havilland Chipmunk T-10 – yes the Chipmunk T-10 that many, many Air Cadets and UAS students had their first flight in, also undertook an important role for many years during the Cold War.The Chipmunk was designed by the Canadian de Havilland company as a tandem two-seat primary trainer and first flew in 1946. A total of 217 aircraft were produced in Canada for both civil and military use and a further 66 were produced in Portugal under licence by OGMA. In the UK 1000 aircraft were produced for both civil and military use and in RAF service it was designated the Chipmunk T-10. All marks were powered by a 145hp de Havilland Gipsy Major 10 engine, giving the aircraft a cruising speed of 230km per hour and a range of 730km. The end of WW2 resulted in Berlin being divided between the Russia, America, Britain and France. As the Cold War developed the Russians first blocked access to Berlin by road and rail and later build the Berlin Wall to prevent the East German population from escaping to the West. However, although access to the Russian Zone on the ground was severely restricted, it could still be accessed from the air.
Chipmunk T10 WZ862
Following a number of incidents between aircraft arriving and departing the various airfields in Berlin after the end of WW2, the four powers agreed to the establishment of the Berlin Control Zone (BCZ) that could be accessed by all aircraft. In addition, they agreed to the establishment of the Berlin Air Safety Centre (BASC), where representatives from all four powers would co-ordinate with each other the movement of aircraft within the BCZ to prevent any misunderstandings taking place. The BCZ was a 20nm circle centered on the BASC and this of course covered a significant area occupied by Russian and East German forces. The British decided to take advantage of this agreement by not only regularly exercising their right to fly over the Russian area of the BCZ, but also to gather intelligence at the same time using two Chipmunk T-10 aircraft. Starting in 1956 and known initially as Operation Schooner and later as Operation Nylon, the operation was classified Top Secret and was authorised by the Cabinet Office, but fooled nobody. The crew consisted of a pilot who occupied the rear seat and observer in the front seat equipped with a hand-held camera fitted with a telephoto lens. The observer was usually a member of the British Commanders’-in-Chief Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany (BRIXMIS), an organisation that was used to gather intelligence on Warsaw Pact forces. Flying as low as 500ft over Soviet controlled areas of the BCZ, the Chipmunk proved to be an excellent platform for clandestine photographic reconnaissance sorties
Chipmunk T10 WG466
Over the years a number of Chipmunks were used in these operations: WG303 and WK587 were used between 1958 - 1966, followed by WP850 and WP971 from 1966 - 1974, followed by WZ862 and WD289 from 1974 until the late 1980s. The last two Chipmunks used in this operation were WG486 and WG466 and, until the Berlin Wall came down and the Warsaw Pact imploded, one of these aircraft could frequently be seen slowly droning its way over Berlin. The photographs obtained of Warsaw Pact equipment were useful and I imagine the Russians also took many photographs of the Chipmunk photographing them, so they knew exactly what these flights were doing and used their own aircraft for exactly the same purpose. On 29 Jul 94 Chipmunk T-10 WG466 was flown into Templehof and presented to the Allied Museum as a lasting reminder of its unusual role during the Cold War. The other Chipmunk, WG486, is now part of the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight based at RAF Coningsby where it is used for training pilots in handling tailwheel aircraft before they progress onto the Spitfire and Hurricane. When the aircraft was first designed, I imagine no one ever envisaged that this fairly crude basic trainer would one day be utilised as a spyplane, but with excellent visibility from its cockpit, its ability to fly slowly for extended periods and it’s well known reliability, the Chipmunk was ideally suited for this unusual role and performed the task creditably over the Berlin Control Zone for many years.
Updated - Nov 2008
In 1958 two examples of the Comet R Mk 2 were delivered to 192 Sqn at RAF Watton who soon re-numbered to 51 Sqn and moved to RAF Wyton. Eventually a total of seven Comet R Mk 2’s were delivered and they took over the ELINT role from the venerable Lincoln and RB-29A Washington. With 4 jet engines, the performance of the Comet was considerably better than its piston engined predecessors. The Comet R Mk 2 was frequently deployed on ‘ferret’ sorties over the Barents Sea north of Norway, along the Baltic and even detached to Cyprus where it could easily monitor activity along the boarder of the Black Sea – an area of particular interest. In addition to the front crew of 2 pilots, 2 navigators and a flight engineer, up to 10 specialists were carried in the main cabin of the aircraft where they operated the monitoring & recording equipment, much of which was manufactured in the USA.
Because of a long-standing agreement to share intelligence, the Comet R Mk 2 often operated in conjunction with USAF RB-47s. The Comet R Mk 2’s were eventually replaced by 3 Nimrod R1’s in 1974 and 3 R1’s are still in use by 51 Sqn at Waddington to this day. Although XK 633 was delivered to Watton for use by 192 Sqn in Apr 57 it was destroyed in a hanger fire at Watton on 13 Sep 57. For many years the only surviving Comet R Mk 2 was displayed outdoors at the Imperial War Museum airfield at Duxford but sadly over the years it suffered badly from water ingress and subsequent corrosion and was eventually broken up in the late 1990s.
|XK 655 from 21 Aug 58 to 1 Aug 74||C2 RC||RC2 ‘A’|
|XK 659 from 21 Aug 58 to 8 Apr 7||C2 RCM||2RC|
|XK 633 from 21 Aug 58 to 13 Sep 57||C2 RCM||Destroyed in hanger fire|
|XK 695 from 14 Mar 63 to 21 Jan 75||C2 RC||Broken up after being displayed at Duxford|
|XK 715 from 1 May 62 to 17 Sep 62||Used for crew training||-|
|XK 671 from 18 Sep 62 to 31 Mar 64||Used for crew training||-|
|XK 697 from 1 Mar 67 to 9 Feb 73||Used for crew training||‘D’|
The De Havilland Hornet was the fastest piston-engined aircraft to ever serve in the RAF and was designed towards the end of the war for use against Japan. Essentially, the aircraft was a scaled-down Mosquito, powered by two Merlin 130/131 engines and carried four 20mm cannon. The war ended before the Hornet entered service but the aircraft eventually saw action during Operation Firedog - the communist insurrection in Malaya in the early 1950's. In this operation the Hornet F Mk3 was equipped with increased fuel capacity and could carry either two 1000lbs bombs or eight 60lb rockets under the wings.
The final Hornet variant was the FR Mk4 which was used exclusively in the far east for fighter reconnaissance duties by 33, 45 and 80 Squadrons. The aircraft was essentially a Mk3 with a single F.52 camera replacing 21 gallons of fuel. A total of 23 aircraft were built, 12 new aircraft and 11 rebuilt F3's.
DH Hornet PR22
In service with the Royal Navy, the PR Mk22 was similar to the FR Mk4, except it was equipped with two F.52 cameras for day photography or a K.19B camera for night photography. The type saw service with 801, 806 and 1833 Squadrons.
Sadly, not a single example of the RAF's or RN's fastest piston -engined aircraft survived to be preserved in a museum - a really great shame.
Although jet aircraft had been introduced into squadron service towards the end of the 2nd World War, in 1946 the principle RAF long-range reconnaissance aircraft was a dedicated photo-reconnaissance development of the piston engined Mosquito.
The Mosquito PR34 first flew on 4 Dec 44 and came into service right at the end of the war in the Far East. In the PR34 the bomb-bay was filled with two huge tanks holding an additional 1192 gallons of fuel and, with the addition of two 200 gallon drop tanks on the wings, the range was extended to 3600 miles whilst flying at 300mph and 25,000ft. The PR34 was equipped with four F52 cameras, two forward and two aft of the belly tanks, together with either one F24 oblique camera or a vertical K17 camera for air survey work. A total of 118 PR34’s were built and they were powered by two 1690 hp Rolls Royce Merlin 114 engines. After the war 35 aircraft were converted to PR34A’s this involved replacing the engines with 1710hp RR Merlin 113A’s. This remarkable aircraft was to soldier on in this role into the early 1950’s until it was replaced by the Canberra.
Mosquito PR34 VL619
In Europe, even before the war came to a close, Mosquito PR34 aircraft of 540 Sqn were sent on Aerial Survey work on behalf of Government departments and the Colonial Office. This task, invariably with the approval of the country concerned, involved photographing an entire country, enabling highly accurate updated maps to be drawn up by the Ordnance Survey.
Mosquito PR34 RG245
In late 1948, during October, November and December, RAF Mosquito PR34s, assigned to No 13 PR Squadron, were detached to Habbaniya, Iraq for special intelligence operations, including penetration flights up to the Caspian Sea area and over the southern states of Russia. RAF Mosquito PR34s were also photographing the southern shoreline of the Caspian Sea in missions flown from Crete at around the same time. These flights were suspended when the MiG-15 began to be deployed in this area.
Finally, in the late 1940’s it is also understood that Mosquito PR34’s from No 58 Sqn took part in Operation Dimple where, after refuelling in West Germany, long-range reconnaissance sorties were flown over East Germany and the Soviet Block. Although official records on these sorties have never been released, there is no evidence that any Mosquito’s were shot down whilst engaged in these activities.
The Venom was a development of the Vampire and it was decided to explore the potential for using the aircraft as a high-altitude reconnaissance platform. It is understood that in the early 1950’s two de Havilland Venoms (WE265 and WE275) were modified by removing all unnecessary equipment such as tip tanks, armament, armour plate and radios. During trials one aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 52,500ft, but at that height was unstable and could hardly manoeuver. One aircraft (WE275) was painted light blue and operated by 541 Sqn was deployed to Wunstorf in West Germany.
Whether this aircraft actually took part in high-level reconnaissance sorties over East Germany is unknown, although there is some evidence that it was used on several occasions. Given the limited range and performance of this aircraft, these sorties probably consisted of little more than a climb to high level, a dash across the border, some quick photos and an even more rapid dash back. Perhaps one day when the appropriate files are released we will discover how successful these sorties really were.
In the early 1950's a single Tp-79 Dakota was operated in the SIGINT role by Sweden. On 13 Jun 52 the aircraft disappeared whilst on a SIGINT sortie over the Baltic with 8 crew on board. Although the Swedish government initially claimed that the Dakota had crashed near to the Swedish island of Gotska Sandon, the crash actually occurred well into international waters, about 100 km from the Russian border and some 35-55 km from the Swedish islands of Gotska Sandon and Gotland. No wreckage of the DC-3 was ever found, apart from one liferaft, and rumours persisted that the crew of the aircraft survived, were taken prisoner and quickly jailed for life in the Gulag. Some are even of the opinion that some crew members were even alive into the 1990's and that one of them may have been an American intelligence officer - the mystery remains unresolved. A few days after the Dakota was shot down, a Swedish Convair Tp-47 Catalina, sent on a SAR sortie to investigate the disappearance, was shot also down by Soviet MiG-15’s to the north-west of the Soviet Island of Huumand. However, on this occasion the crew were rescued by a German merchant ship and returned to Sweden.
Sonar scan of the Tp-79 on the seabed of the Baltic
In 1991, in the spirit of Glasnost and the hope of better relations with Sweden, the Russian authorities produced original documents about the shootdown, including a map of the incident. The wreck of the Tp-79 was found by a search expedition in the summer of 2003 and the bullet holes made by the MiG-15s are still clearly visible. A sonar scan showed that the aircraft's fuselage was still largely intact, with the aircraft settled into the seabed on its belly, although the port wing had detached and the nose area was badly crushed. A closer examination of the wreckage discovered that the plane was in much worse condition than first realised. The attack did particular damage to the left wing, which was separated from the aircraft and the aircraft hit the sea very hard. The plane is now 400ft down in the Baltic and has been sinking into the mud for last 53 years, so much so that the inside of the fuselage is almost completely filled with mud.
Thanks to DNA, the only human bones found so far in the wreckage have been confirmed as the remains of the pilot Alvar Almeberg. In 1983 the son of Alvar Almeberg, Roger Almeberg, published a book about his struggle to discover the truth behind the loss of the plane and the disappearance of his father, so at least he knows that his father must have died in either the attack or the subsequent crash. The fate of the remaining 7 crew members remains unknown.
The Swedish Navy attempted to raise the wreck and bring it to a military port in Sweden during the autumn of 03. However, with the fragile condition of the airframe and increasingly poor weather, the risk of the fuselage breaking up whilst it was being recovered was very high, so the recovery operation has been postponed for the winter and will re-commence in March 04.
Swedish National Television (SvT) have contracted Lars Olof Lampers to make a documentary about the incident and I hope that eventually the film will find its way onto British television.
Finnish ELINT DC-3
From mid-1973 Finland operated two DC-3 aircraft, known as 'Leena' and 'Ursula', which undertook ESM / ELINT duties under the direction of the Air Force Electronic Support Measures Group. The two aircraft were equipped with a variety of sensors which were presumably targeted at the Soviet forces over the adjacent border.
Rear cabin of Finnish ELINT DC-3
Very little detail has ever been released about these two aircraft and only two photographs exists of one of the aircraft and the other of its interior. The aircraft obviously performed well as they remained in service until 1984 when they were retired and their role was transferred to a single Fokker F-27 which still remains in service.
During the war in Vietnam the USAF used a variety of EC-47 aircraft, known as 'Electric Goons' to gather SIGINT - around 50 aircraft were converted into this role. These aircraft were equipped with a variety of signals interception and emitter location equipment to enable them to identify and locate enemy radio transmissions. A number of aircraft were also equipped to gather ELINT. The EC-47s were eventually phased out of service in the 1970s.
A single C-47TP is operated by 35 Sqn of the South African Air Force from their base at Cape Town. The C-47TP can be identified by numerous ELINT and COMINT antennas on the upper and lower fuselage, which provide Direction Finding (DF) capability in various frequency bands. Grintek System Technologies modified the aircraft for ELINT and COMINT duties. This aircraft played a significant part in monitoring the military situation in Angola and continues to operate monitoring other nations along South Africa’s border.
Columbian Turbo C-47
In their continuing war against the various drug cartels, the Colombian Air Force operates at least one Turbo Dakota, fitted with an infra-red tracker mounted in a turret under the nose.
For many years France employed one DC-8 as a ELINT platform and it was operated by Escadron Electronique EE 51 ‘Aubrac’ from its base at Evreux near Paris. In 2000 the original DC-8-53 Serial No 45570, was replaced with a newer DC-8-72-F Serial No 46043 powered by CFM56 turbofans. The name Sarigue stands for Systeme Aeroporte de Recueil d’Informations de Guerre Electronique (Airborne Electronic Warfare Information Gathering System) and also is the French word for Opossum, a solitary animal rather like the aircraft itself, which was rarely seen in public. The updated aircraft was known as the SARIGUE-NG, with the NG standing for Nouvelle Generation or New Generation.
wingtip antenna array
The aircraft was fitted with equipment developed by Thompson-CSF, similar to that installed in the Transall Gabriel. It is believed that the aircraft operated with a 24 man crew and as well as COMINT and SIGINT duties, it could even intercept mobile phone calls. Operated by the French Air Force on behalf of the armed forces and security services, it was seen in the Baltic, Mediterranean and French Africa, as well as being used in support of coalition operations during the Gulf War and NATO peace keeping operations in Kosovo. The Sarigue was unusual in having a large sideways looking airborne radar (SLAR) in a fairing under the fuselage, as well as large rectangular antenna arrays at each wingtip.
DC-8 Sarigue NG
On Sunday 19 Sep 04 a report suddenly appeared in The Mail on Sunday that the DC-8 Sarigue NG had been grounded. The report went on to state that, as a result of an extensive upgrade by Thales the cost of which ballooned from £24 to £32 million, the plane ended up being equipped with ten tons of high-tech equipment and then it was suddenly discovered that the plane was so overloaded that it couldn’t safely fly!! The French defence ministry apparently decided to end the programme as the Sarigue was no longer good value for money. The report was officially confirmed on 29 Sep 04 by Jane’s Defence Weekly who reported that the French Defence Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, had confirmed that the aircraft would be retired because of ‘high operating costs’. Other reports have indicated that, as well as being overweight, the equipment installed by Thales simply didn’t work correctly and was rejected by the French MOD who wanted the company to remove the equipment and refund the cost of the upgrade – which I suppose is another way of describing the operating costs as ‘high’.
DC-8 Sarigue NG
I have always wondered why the French persisted with using such an old airframe as the DC-8 for this vital SIGINT role - even though the Sarigue NG was equipped with modern CFM-56 engines, other spares cannot have been particularly easy to acquire. When this extensive upgrade was planned, I assume converting an Airbus 310, 320 or 330 for this role was seriously considered, costed and then rejected. Any of those modern airframes would have provided the necessary capacity and load carrying capability and would even have allowed the French to market a modern ‘off-the-shelf’ ELINT aircraft, with plenty of spares readily avaialble, to other countries. However, like the USA, I assume the French did not want other countries to target France with French ELINT equipment and consequently rejected the idea!
The Douglas F3D Skynight was designed in the mid to late 1940's to meet a US navy requirement for a modern turbojet powered night fighter. The first XF3D-1 flew in March 1948 with a 3000lb thrust J34-WE-24 turbojet and this led to production of 28 examples of the F3D-1. In 1958 a further 128 examples of an improved version, the F3D-2, were produced - this aircraft was intended to be powered by the 4600lb J46-WE-3 engine, but instead were powered by an improved version of the J34 engine. The aircraft saw extensive service during the Korean War (1950-3), during which the US Marine Corps scored numerous air victories with the aircraft. The F3D-2 is also remembered as the aircraft which made the first recorded jet v jet night kill. The Skynight was soon replaced by other aircraft in the US Navy interceptor role, but the US Marines continued to use the aircraft from land bases.
The US Marine later converted a number of Skynights into ECM and ELINT aircraft, giving this variant the designation F3D-2Q. However in 1962 the US military decided to consolidate their aircraft designation system and the F3D-2Q was redesignated the EF-10B. During the Formosa crisis of 1957-8 the aircraft was the first to detect the Communist Chinese fire-control radar. Later during the Cuban missile crisis, the EF-10B was the first to detect the presence of Soviet radars on the island. In 1965, during the Vietnam conflict, as air strikes inside North Vietnam increased, if was apparent that there was a serious lack of ECM aircraft to cover strike formations. As a result a small number of EF-10B's were dispatched to Da Nang airbase to provide cover for US Navy and Air Force raids over North Vietnam.
Douglas EF-10B Skynight
Although there were only ever around 10 EF-10B's available, they were heavily tasked. In support of raids they identified and recorded the location and frequency of enemy radars and then passed the location to defence suppression aircraft who bombed the site, or alternatively, they jammed the radars with chaff and ECM. The EF-10B's were very effective in this role, despite their age, and were used until well into 1966 when their role was taken over by RB-66 Destroyers, EKA-3B Skywarrior's and later the EA-6A 'Electric Intruder', the predecessor of the current EA-6B Prowler. The EF-10B continued to serve in Vietnam until 1969 and was eventually removed from operational service in 1970.
The US Air Force and Navy were very fortunate that the US Marine Corps had sufficient foresight to convert a number of Skynight's into EF-10B's and that were also available in Vietnam at a time when both services lacked the capability that this, by then fairly antiquated, aircraft provided. No Skynights are now in flying condition although some are on display in museums and at US military bases.
The Douglas A3D-1 Skywarrior was designed to replace the North American Savage as a large carrier based nuclear bomber. On 31st March 1956 the A3D-1 entered service with the US Navy and before long equipped 12 squadrons, going to sea in nine to twelve aircraft squadrons on the Forrestal and Midway classes of aircraft carriers and in three plane detachments on the Hancock class of carrier. Eventually 49 A3D-1 (later designated the A-3A) and 164 A3D-2 (later designated the A-3B) aircraft would be delivered to the US Navy.
The US Navy soon realised that the aircraft could also be useful for tactical reconnaissance and instructed Douglas to investigate the feasibility of installing cameras in the bomb bay. The foward section of the bomb bay caontained up to seven cameras, including forward oblique (K-18 or A-10), trimetrogon (K-17, T-11 or CA-8) and vertical or split cameras (K-37, K-38, K-17C or T-11). The aft section was divided horizontally into two, the upper part housing a 440-gallon fuel tank and the lower part containing either photoflash bombs or photoflash cartridges for use during night photographic missions. The foward part of the bay also contained a seat for a camera opertor, camera controls and a viewfinder, however, the cameras were usually controlled from the main cockpit. This version of the Skywarrior entered service as the A3D-1P. A later improved version was designated the A3D-2P (later changed to RA-3B) was a highly versatile aircraft with 12 camera mounts, 16 camera ports, 33 camera positions and a bomb bay that could carry flash bombs, flash cartridges and photographic recording equipment.
EA-3B airborne front left
Another version of the Skywarrior was the A3D-1Q, an ectronic countermeasures version of the aircraft, known as "Queer Whales". Retaining the fuselage of the original bomber, the A3D-1Q had a crew of seven, with four operators accommodated in the unpressurised bomb bay. ECM antennas were housed in oblong fuselage blisters, one either side, and in a short ventral canoe. An improved version, the A3D-2Q, had a pressurised compartment for the four ECM operators. Eventually a total of 24 A3D-2Q were delivered and the aircraft was later re-designated the EA-3B.
The USAF RB-66B was USAF version of the US Navy A3D-2P Skywarrior tactical reconnaissance aircraft. The RB-66B first flew in 1954 and a total of 154 were eventually built. In the tactical reconnaissance role RB-66B aircraft were fitted with a variety of cameras and other sensors in the fuselage. Another version, the WB-66B, was equipped for electronic weather reconnaissance. A number of RB-66 aircraft were converted to act as ECM aircraft, jamming enemy radar and communications equipment and were known as the EB-66. The RB-66 saw extensive service in South East Asia where a number of aircraft were lost.
RB-66B pilot Capt David I Holland
On 10th March 1964 at 1300hrs a USAF RB-66B 54-9541 of the 10th TRW took off from Toul-Rosieres in France on a routine navigational training sortie. The aircraft was flown by an experienced pilot named Capt David I Holland and acting as his navigator was Capt Melvin J Kessler, one of the senior navigators of the wing, who was carrying out a combat qualification check on the third member of the crew, Second Lt Harold W Welch. The plan was to fly a high-low-high mission to conduct a low-level photo run on several bridges and rivers in north-west Germany, near the town of Osnabruck. At approximately 100-150 miles from Toul, as the VOR/DME navigation aid on the RB-66B became ineffective, the aircraft slowly climbed to 33,000ft and the autopilot was engaged. At this stage of the sortie they were flying over an undercast and were relying on Lt Welsh to determine the aircraft's position by interpreting the returns he could see on the aircrafts radar, however, in such a heavily populated area, this was a very difficult task. Capt Kessler was cross referring the estimated radar position by using the latitude and longitude positions displayed on the aircrafts Doppler navigation system. In reality, rather than flying over the north German plain in West German airspace, the aircraft was flying into the central air corridor heading towards Berlin, entering East German airspace.
RB-66B crew being released - Capt David I Holland and Capt Melvin Kessler
No sooner had the aircraft begun to descend to commence the low-level portion of the mission, than the crew felt the impact of a C-5 air-to-air rocket, fired by Capt F Zinoviev of the 35th Fighter Air Regiment, flying one of four MiG-19 that had been scrambled to intercept the RB-66B. Capt Holland and the other two crew members ejected from the stricken aircraft and the three men landed in a pine wood near the town of Gardelegen in East Germany, over 135 miles from where they thought they were and over 70km inside East Germany. Washington issued strenuous denials that the aircraft was engaged on a spying mission and 17 days later after some strong complaints from Moscow, the three men were eventually released.
Thanks to Maj Verne Gardina, one of the most repected and experienced navigators in the RB-66 community, the cause of the navigation error was eventually narrowed down to the RB-66's compass system. Maj Verne Gardina had experienced a similar error before, but luckily it happened over the USA and not East Germany. He proved that, if the RB-66 delta-wound N-1 Compass system mounted in the left wingtip malfunctioned, once the auto-pilot was engaged the aircraft would drift further and further to the right - exactly what had happened to Capt Holland's aircraft. Maj Verne Gardina's detailed investigation into this incident proved that the aircraft equipment, rather than the crew, was at fault and Capt Holland and his crew were cleared of all responsibility for the loss of the RB-66B. Capt Holland returned to flying duties and in the Vietnam War is credited with 146 missions in the EW version of the RB-66, the EB-66.
After the US Navy had introduced the concept of an AEW system towards the end of WW2, with the Grumman TBM-3W Avenger, they realised a larger aircraft was required to carry the necessary equipment and crew. Eventually it was decided to develop an AEW variant of the Douglas AD-3 Skyraider, known as the AD-3W, of which 31 were built, using the AN/APS-20 housed in a radome under the fuselage and crewed by a pilot and two radar operators buried in the fuselage.
The performance of the AN/APS-20 radar could best be described as rudimentary. Unreliability frequently plagued operations and radar detection capability was greatly affected by the sea state and prevailing meteorological conditions. The radar operated in the S-Band (2 to 4 GHz frequency) and in optimum conditions could detect a medium sized aircraft at 50nms. A total of 417 aircraft were eventually produced and all served with the US Navy, apart from 50 examples of the AD-4W which were supplied to the RN Fleet Air Arm in 1951.
RN Skyraider AEW Mk 1 taking off from HMS Albion
Known as the Skyraider AEW Mk1 in Fleet Air Arm service, 20 were new build aircraft and 30 were refurbished ex US Navy aircraft. Following evaluation with 778 Sqn and carrier trials on the newly commissioned HMS Eagle, the aircraft was accepted into service on 7 Jul 52. In service the aircraft were operated by 849 Sqn based at Culdrose and when additional aircraft were delivered the squadron was split into 5 operational flights together with a HQ Flt of between 4 to 6 aircraft each. During the next 7 years the aircraft were operated by various flights from HMS Eagle, HMS Glory, HMS Bulwark, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Victorious, HMS Albion and HMS Centaur. The Skyraider started to be phased out of RN service in Sep 59 with the arrival of the Gannet AEW Mk3. The last RN deployment of the Skyraider took place in Feb 60 when D Flt embarked on HMS Albion for a ten-month cruise to the Far East - on Albion's return in Dec 60 the aircraft were flown to Abbotsinch for disposal. A number of refurbished Skyraiders were sold to Sweden, two were retained by the RN for static display and the rest were scrapped.
The Embraer ERJ-145 has been one of the company’s great successes, selling more than 500 versions to a variety of civil operators, and capturing a large chuck of the regional jet market.
However, Embraer were quick to realise that their aircraft would make ideal platforms for a variety of military tasks and in the mid-1990s this coincided with the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) beginning to investigate airborne platforms as part of the SIstema de Vigililancia de AMazonia (SIVAM) - the Amazon surveillance programme. Initially, Embraer proposed two specialised military versions of its turbo-prop EMB-120 to meet the SIVAM requirement: an Airborne Surveillance (abbreviated SA in Portuguese) version and a Remote Sensing (RS) version. However, by 1997 it was becoming obvious that the greater interior space and performance of their new EMB-145 regional jet would be far preferable for the SIVAM requirement.
The EMB-145 SA first flew on 22 May 99 and a total of 5 aircraft have been ordered for the FAB and given the military designation R-99A. The aircraft is fitted with the Ericsson PS-890 Erieye phased array radar mounted longitudinally above the fuselage. Electronic Support Measures (ESM), communications and datalink antenna are mounted beneath the fuselage and enable the aircraft to integrate data in real-time with ground stations and other aircraft. The installation of these systems has resulted in a number of additional vertical control surfaces and ventral strakes onto the tailplane and fuselage respectively. Manned by a cockpit crew of two and up to five mission specialists seated in forward facing consoles in the main fuselage, the EMB-145 SA has sufficient interior space for three reserve crew members, a considerable amount of ESM and communications equipment and additional fuel tanks within the fuselage. The Erieye radar is capable of 360 degree detection and tracking of air and sea targets, has a maximum instrumented range of 450km and can detect fighter sized targets in excess of 350kms. Typical endurance is in excess of 8hrs.
The EM145 RS is equipped with a McDonald Dettwiler Integrated Radar Imaging System (IRIS), a synthetic aperture radar housed in an under-fuselage radome, a FLIR Systems AAQ-22 StarSafire forward-looking infra-red (FLIR), a Geophysical & Environmental Research (GER) multi-spectral scanner, COMINT and ELINT systems and various on-board items of recording and processing equipment. The first aircraft flew on 17 Dec 99, three aircraft were ordered by the FAP as part of the SIVAM programme and are now patrolling the Amazon basin. This aircraft could well form the basis for a dedicated ELINT version of the 145 in the near future.
EMB-145 MP P99
Embraer have also developed the unarmed EMB-145 MP configured for maritime patrol and two aircraft have been ordered by the FAP. The EMB-145 MP is very similar to the EMB-145 SA but instead of the Erieye radar, it is fitted with a Raytheon SeaVue search radar in a ventral radome and a FLIR Systems AAQ-22 StarSafire FLIR. In an attempt to attract orders from countries think of upgrading or replacing their Lockheed P-3 Orion’s, Embraer have also proposed an armed version, designated EMB-145 P99. This version would be fitted with the Thales AMASCOS suite featuring an Ocean Master search radar in a ventral radome, DR3000 ESM and Agile FLIR. The aircraft would have a cockpit crew of two, five tactical consoles in the fuselage and be capable of carrying four Exocet missiles on underwing pylons.
The EMB-145 SA AEW&C has attracted considerable interest from countries keen to acquire an AWACS capability, without the expense of operating a much larger aircraft, and it is being aggresively marketed by a consortium of Embraer, Ericsson and Thales. Greece ordered 4 aircraft in 1999 and to enable the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) to acquire knowledge in the operation of the Erieye radar, two Swedish Air Force S100B Argus aircraft have been operated by the 380th AEW&C Sqn of the HAF based at Elefsina air base since Sep 01. The first EMB-145 SA destined for the HAF left Brazil on 16 Oct 03, on its way to Ericsson Microwave Systems in Sweden where the Erieye radar and associated systems will be fitted, and it is expected that delivery to Greece will take place next year. Given the continued hostility between the two countries, Turkey was never going to allow Greece to acquire an AEW&C capability without responding and Turkey ordered four of the even more capable Boeing 737 AEW&C 'Wedgetail' in 2003 with the first delivery expected in 2007. Mexico has also ordered 1 EMB-145 SA and 2 EMB-145 MP aircraft.
The first jet reconnaissance aircraft with a really effective range and capable of air-to-air refuelling, North American RB-45C Tornado, was already entering service in 1952. The activities of the RB-45C at RAF Sculthorpe are particularly noteworthy and covered separately. However, although the RB-45C could cruise at Mach 0.7, it’s operational ceiling was limited to less than 40,000 feet, making it vulnerable if used in daylight operations. In early 1950 a new medium bomber designed for the RAF, the Canberra, was undergoing its initial testing and, with a operational ceiling of 50,000 feet and a maximum speed of 470 knots, had clear potential as a reconnaissance platform. In 1954 the RAF commenced Project Robin exact details of this project have yet to be released by the British Government. However, what is known is that it involved the use of a specially equipped Canberra to obtain photographic intelligence of specific Warsaw Pact military bases close to the borders of West Germany.
One particular sortie by a Canberra, over Kapustin Yar, during 1953 and is discussed in more detail elsewhere.
Sweden also operated two SIGINT Canberra B2s known as Tp52s. Lars Henricksson has written a full article on these two unique aircraft which can be seen here. The article has been copied with permission from Les Bywaters excellent Canberra Tribute Site.
Canberra B2 A number of Canberra aircraft were on the strength of 540 Sqn, which later became 51 Sqn - generally these aircraft operated in conjunction with the 540 Sqn Comet 2R’s on ELINT sorties. As far as can be ascertained these aircraft were:
|B2||WH670||to 21 Aug 58||-|
|B2||WH698||from 18 Feb 53 to 20 Jan 64||-|
|B2||WJ640||to Jul 66||-|
|B6||WJ755||from 3 Dec 54 to 21 Aug 58||Z|
|B6||WT301||from 3 Dec 54 to 21 Aug 58||W|
|B6||WT305||to 15 Nov 76||X|
|B2||WJ775||to 5 May 74||-|
|B2||WT301||to 12 Jul 74||-|
|T4||WH845||from 14 Jun 62 to 14 Aug 72||-|
|T4||WJ873||to 29 Jun 62||-|
|B6||WT206||from 13 Mar 62 to 30 Nov 62||-|
|B6||WJ768||from 9 Sep 63 to 9 Jul 74 Y||-|
PR7 WH799 shot down by Syrian MiG
On 6 Nov 1956, during the build up to the Suez crisis, an RAF Canberra PR7 WH799 flown by Flt Lt B L Hunter, along with his Navigator Fg Off Urquhart-Pullen and a third crew member, took off from Akrotiri in Cyprus for a photo-reconnaissance sortie over Syria. The purpose of the sortie was to monitor an apparent build up of Soviet supplied combat aircraft in Syria. Unfortunately, WH799 was shot down over Syria on by either a MiG-15 flown by a Soviet or Czechoslovakian pilot or possibly by a Syrian Meteor NF-13, supplied to Syria by Britain! Sadly the Navigator was killed but the pilot and the other crew member survived and after treatment in Beirut Military Hospital, were later repatriated.
Nose of West German Canberra
B2 on ground Three ex-RAF Canberra B2 were supplied to the West German Luftwaffe in Sep 66 and converted for ELINT duties.
The Swedish Air Force also purchased 2 Canberra’s in 1960 which were converted into ELINT ac and designated Tp52. The Canberra's were replaced by two ex-SAS Tp85 Caravelles in 1971.
In military aviation these days the word ‘legendary’, like so many other statements, is often over-used to describe what are, in reality, fairly run of the military aircraft. My personal opinion is that to even be considered for such an accolade, a reconnaissance aircraft should first meet a number of fairly strict criteria. Firstly, it should have been designed specifically for reconnaissance duties. Secondly, it should have served on the front line for 30+ years and participated in numerous actual operations. Finally, when it entered service it should have had sufficient performance to mark it out as unusual and possibly even unique. In the fairly narrow field of reconnaissance aircraft since WW2, I would only have 5 aircraft on my list, the Lockheed U-2, the Lockheed SR-71, the MiG-25 Foxbat, the McDonnell Douglas RF-4 Phantom and lastly the subject of this article, the English Electric Canberra PR-9.
Op Robin Canberra WH726 with 240' LOROP camera in bomb bay - Photo courtesy of William Britton
It’s remarkable to think that the original Canberra first flew way back on 13 May 49, only four years after the end of WW2. But even though the aircraft was originally designed as a medium bomber, it’s performance surpassed many front-line fighter aircraft of the day and it quickly became obvious that the airframe could easily be adapted to create a highly effective reconnaissance platform. Even before the Canberra PR3, a dedicated reconnaissance aircraft, entered service in 1952, 540 Sqn were using a number of specially adapted Canberra B2 medium bombers, equipped with a variety of cameras, to undertake a number of overflights of the Warsaw Pact countries. One 540 Sqn aircraft, WH726, was flown to the USA and fitted with a highly advanced 240” LOROP compact camera mounted in the bomb bay and then conducted a whole series of peripheral border flights along the borders of the Warsaw Pact, known as Operation Robin.
Canberra PR9 prototype WH793
The PR3 had quickly proved the superb capability of a dedicated reconnaissance version of the Canberra. Consequently, the aircraft was subsequently developed into an even more capable version, known as the PR7, and this aircraft gave many years of valuable service in many RAF squadrons, as well as being sold overseas to a number of airforces. Building on the experience gained with the PR3 and PR7, the RAF decided that it wanted a new high-altitude reconnaissance Canberra for strategic reconnaissance. The new Canberra PR9 married the same fuselage used by the PR3 and PR7, with an enlarged wing and more powerful Rolls Royce Avon 206 (RA24) engines. A PR7 (WH793) was modified by Napier to this configuration and served as the prototype for all future PR9s. The bigger wing and powerful engines improved the all ready excellent high altitude performance of the PR7 and the new PR9 soon demonstrated an operational ceiling in excess of 60,000ft. Production PR9s were modified even more and featured a new off-set fighter cockpit based on the Canberra B(1)8, but with a hinged nose section that allowed access for the navigator, who sat in a forward facing ejection seat, in front of and below the pilot. The new off-set canopy, which could be opened on the ground to improve ventilation, was particularly popular with pilots, as it finally addressed one of the weaknesses of the PR3 and PR7 – the poor visibility from the cockpit. However, burying the navigator in the nose was not the ideal solution and in retrospect the Martin B-57 tandem cockpit would have been a much better solution.
English Electric sub-contracted Shorts Brothers in Belfast to build the production aircraft and eventually a total of 23 PR9’s were built between 1958 and 1962. However, only 21 were actually delivered to the RAF, one aircraft (XH129) was written off before it was even delivered and another (XH132) was only used for missile trials. In Jan 1960 the Canberra PR9 entered service with 58 Sqn at RAF Wyton and the first operational sortie was flow three months later. However, the RAF decided that the PR9s would be better deployed to the Mediterranean and 58 Sqn handed over the aircraft to 13 Sqn and then 39 Sqn, both based at RAF Luqa in Malta – 58 Sqn were then re-equipped with the older PR7. Eventually, 13 Sqn were re-equipped with PR7s and returned to RAF Wyton, together with 39 Sqn who by Aug 1976 became the sole operator of the PR9.
By the mid 1970s it was decided to upgrade 12 of the remaining 16 aircraft to enhance their low-level and tactical reconnaissance capability. Between 1976 and 1980 the aircraft were upgraded with a Decca TANS (Tactical Air Navigation System) and improved Doppler as well as a new Sperry Master Reference Gyro. An improved AN/ARI 18228/6 RWR was fitted into the tail unit, resulting in two ‘acorn’ fairings – one on the leading edge of the fin and the other on the tailcone. The withdrawal from service of the expensive and unreliable Phantom reconnaissance pod also allowed the Texas Instruments ARI 5969/3 Infra-Red Line Scan (IRLS) used in the pod to be made available for the PR9 and provision was made for this equipment to be installed in the former flare bay. The flare bay could also carry System III, this was a 36” focal length camera that was derived from the Hycon B camera carried by the U-2R. The System III was a wet film camera fitted with an articulated ‘pointing’ mirror lens unit that could point either vertically down or to three oblique positions either side of the centreline. To obtain the optimum images from the System III, the PR9 had to fly around 50,000ft agl and from this height the camera could produce pin sharp 18 inch prints, with sufficient overlap to allow a stereoscopic image to be created.
Both the IRLS and System III have now been retired, together with the 36” F96 camera that was carried in the forward camera bay. When GPS eventually became available, a Trimble GPS was linked to the TANS and this was later upgraded to a very accurate GPS/INS system to enable the most effective use to be made of the new EO sensor. The new EO sensor is a version of the Senior Year Electro-Optical Relay System (SYERS) that is also carried by the Lockheed U-2S, however, the RAF sensor is known as the Rapid Deployment Electro-Optical System (RADEOS) and is also manufactured by the Goodrich Corporation in the USA.
When a PR9 is tasked for a mission that requires the RADEOS, the bomb-bay doors are removed and the RADEOS, which is mounted on a gimballed crate assembly, is winched up into the flare bay. A pair of deployable 20ft cabins houses the RADEOS ground station and reconnaissance data is either sent direct to the stations via a data link or stored on board until landing. Although the RADEOS produces a very high quality image at long slant range, the image area is quite narrow. To overcome this problem, the PR9 is fitted with a Recon/Optical KA-93 panoramic camera in the forward camera bay; the camera uses a 24” lens to provide high resolution wide angle coverage from the horizon to the vertical either side of the flight path.
It is still a matter of conjecture whether RAF Canberra PR9s were involved in the 1982 Falklands conflict. Some reports have claimed that up to seven PR9s were flown from Wyton to Belize in mid-Apr 82, where they were repainted in Chilean Air Force markings before being flown onto Punta Arenas, the Chilean Air Force base at the extreme end of South America. From Punta Arenas RAF crews allegedly flew the PR9s over mainland Argentina and the South Atlantic, gathering valuable intelligence about the Argentinean forces. It is even rumoured that four of the even older PR7s from 100 Sqn might also have operated from Chile during the conflict. Another unconfirmed rumour is that two RAF Hercules C1s (XV192 and XV292), painted in Chilean Air Force markings, also operated from Punta Arenas during the conflict, presumably to support the RAF detachment; these aircraft were apparently seen after the conflict at RAF Lyneham, still bearing faint traces of Chilean markings. One day the full story of the RAF’s involvement in the Falklands conflict will eventually emerge and until this happens the involvement of the Canberra PR9 and other aircraft just remains conjecture. It is a fact that, after the conflict had ended, the UK government either sold or donated three PR9s to Chile, along with 12 Hawker Hunters – if the aircraft were actually donated, quite why the UK felt that indebted to Chile has never been satisfactorily explained. The Chilean PR9s have now all been retired.
An indication of just how cost-effective the Canberra PR9s have been was given in a parliamentary answer when it was revealed that the total cost of running the five PR9s in FY 20001/2 was only £15.5M. In recent years the aircraft have been used in operations over Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Somalia and the ability of the RADEOS to interface with the U-2S SYERS ground stations has made the aircraft a particularly valued asset by US commanders and is often right at the top of their ‘wish list’. The problem that the RAF now faces is how to replace such a long-lived and hugely successful aircraft. Originally it was planned to fit the RADEOS in the new Sentinel R1 ASTOR, housed in an extended ventral canoe, however, for various reasons, mainly financial, together with the ever increasing all-up weight of the aircraft, the RADEOS option was deleted. Whilst a dedicated reconnaissance version of the Bombardier Global Express, equipped with the RADEOS and other sensors, would be an idea solution, in the current financial climate it seems highly unlikely that the UK MOD will find sufficient money to fund the purchase and conversion of additional aircraft. Under current plans the remaining five PR9s will finally be retired in 2006. To investigate the various PR9 replacement options, the UK MOD currently have a study underway that is known as Project Dabinett. At present this requirement is ‘aspirational’ and ‘unfunded’ and it is widely recognised that, when the aircraft are no longer available, there will be a ‘capability gap’ and it could well be the end of the decade before this gap is closed – a strange situation for an organisation that recognises the need for increased ISTAR assets, particularly when such aircraft can add additional value to the proposed MOD Network Enabled Capability.
Earlier this year, in co-operation with the US Air Force, the RAF began operating a number of MQ-1/RQ-1 Predators over Iraq in support of UK forces. The benefits of the RAF operating this proven, well developed and advanced Medium Altitude Endurance (MAE) UAV are obvious, but it has recently been reported that the outcome of Project Dabinett will result in the UK not directly replacing the Canberra PR9 on a one-for-one basis. Instead the RAF will rely on current systems for the short term at least. I suspect that the purchase of the Predator and associated support facilities may well have already have happened and that these UAVs will help to plug the gap.
Four of the remaining Canberra PR9s in formation
Despite every one of the five remaining 39 Sqn Canberra PR9s being at least 44 years old, thanks to the various upgrades they have undergone over the years, they still offer the UK MOD a unique capability at relatively low cost and are in high demand all around the world. With each passing year, those involved in operating, supporting or just benefiting from the intelligence gathered from the PR9’s sensors have known how difficult these aircraft will be to replace. Whatever the eventual replacement, I very much doubt that it will have either the same capability, longevity or be held in such affection as the venerable Canberra PR9.
One of the great concerns to NATO planners during the Cold War was the prospect of swarms of Warsaw Pact tanks quickly breaking through allied defences on the East German border and then running amok on the wide-open plains of North Germany en-route to the Channel Ports. The need existed for a system that could accurately identify vehicles on the ground and then pass targeting information to defending systems. Eventually this requirement was filled by mounting a Side-Looking Airborne Radar on an aircraft - the Grumman OV-1D / RV-1D Mohawk. After the Cold War had ended this concept lead to the Northrop Grumman E-8C J-STARS, RAF’s Sentinel R1 that will enter service in 2007 and the NATO AGS programme.
One of the lesser known programmes to use an airborne radar to identify potential targets is the Eurocopter AS 532UL Cougar Horizon system. The French Army had a long-standing requirement for a system that could assist in identifying vehicle targets for their artillery to engage. Rather than try and develop a fixed-wing system, the French Army decided to mount a radar on their standard battlefield helicopter, the Eurocopter Cougar and create the Horizon – Helicopter Observation and Radar Investigation of Zone. Four helicopters were equipped with the Thompson-CSF Target multi-mode pulse Doppler J-Band radar mounted below the rear fuselage in a retractable rotating antenna and associated electronics. The radar’s antenna has very low side-lobes and frequency agility for resistance to electronic countermeasures, including anti-radar missiles. The radar operate primarily in moving target indicator (MTI) mode, has a range of about 100nms / 160kms from its optimum operating height, a resolution of 10 meters and a target velocity of about 5-170mph. Typically the Horizon would pop-up to its optimum operating height – 8,000 to 15,000ft, from which it can scan nearly 8,000 square miles in 10 seconds, survey the movements of up to 4000 wheeled or tracked vehicles, before descending down rapidly again to get below radar cover. Defensive equipment includes an EW suite consisting of a Thales RWR (Fruit) and a missile-approach warning system (Damien) along with an MBDA countermeasures dispenser (Saphir). The crew of four consists of two pilots, a flight engineer and a radar operator.
Cougar Horizon Ground Station
The data obtained by the radar is transmitted via a Thales Agatha data-link to the Horizon ground station, with a typical delay of less than two seconds. The operator in the Horizon ground station can enhance the data, validate or invalidate the contact, add some maps or technical data (the crew can also do this in flight) and then send the results to wherever they are required via the Syracuse French military telecom satellite. Currently the French Army are equipped with four Horizon helicopters and two air deployable ground stations delivered between 1996 and 1997, however, the original Orchidee programme which eventually lead to the Horizon system called for a total of 20 Horizon helicopters, but with the end of the Cold War and subsequent draw-down in defence budgets, this number is was scaled back into the Horizon programme and is unlikely to ever be achieved. The Orchidee programme also called for the fitting of a direct datalink to J-STARS, but unfortunately when the Orchidee programme was cancelled this requirement was omitted from the subsequent Horizon programme, something that must have been deeply regretted by many people.
In fact, as the role for which it was originally intended disappeared, the French Army have been keen to find new ways of employing Horizon, less as a tactical and more as a theatre asset. However, as the Horizon was developed solely with when the French Army in mind, when it was first used in support of NATO operations it proved difficult to cross-cue data obtained by the Horizon with data from J-STARS and other sources, in other words Horizon tended to operate in a classic ISR ‘stovepipe’.
The real problem with the Horizon system is that there simply aren’t enough of them to make much of a difference, because the Horizon squadron, attached to the 1st Combat Helicopter Regiment at Phalsbourg, Lorraine, only consists of four helicopters and two ground stations. As a result, in the planning phase of an upcoming operation, although they might well be offered to a theatre commander as an available asset, the possibility of mechanical failure, combat loss or the loss of just one helicopter would seriously degrade the unit’s overall capabilities and, as a consequence, make it unlikely the Horizon system would be given a pivotal role in any critical operation. There is no doubt that the Horizon system works effectively and in the right environment can be a considerable operational asset, however, had the system been originally built with the capability to share data directly with the E-8C J-STARS and other NATO ground assets and if a larger buy of helicopters and ground stations had taken place, the Horizon system would have been requested by NATO commanders much more frequently. Nevertheless, as it is currently equipped it would appear that Horizon is destined to remain a niche French system that lacks the ‘critical mass’ necessary to make the bigger operational impact it actually deserves.
By 2008, in a time of pressure on the French defence budget, the high maintenance cost of keeping the Horizon programme operational was being seriously questioned, particularly as the specific threat that the system was designed to detect had disappeared. Additionally, it was considered there was little likelihood that there would be a need for the Horizon system in the future when quite small UAVs, carrying either electro-optical or synthetic aperture radar systems, can now undertake the task. Eventually in May 2008 it was announced that the four Horizon helicopters and two ground stations would be mothballed, however, I seriously doubt whether these unusual helicopters will ever see operational service again. Although well intentioned, the Horizon programme was just too small and 'French specific' to be of much use when the Cold War ended. The Horizon programme is an example of how, when political/military circumstances quickly change, a niche system suddenly becomes almost obsolete. Also, whenever a new military aerial surviellance system is being planned, if interoperability with other similar systems is not built-in from the start, this may well limit the systems true operational capability, as well as its overall effectivesness and length of service.
Updated May 2008
Although generally derided as probably the ugliest aircraft ever to overcome gravity, the Fairey Gannet AEW3 nevertheless fulfilled a vital AEW role for the RN for many years. The Gannet AEW3 was a highly modified version of the Gannet AS (Anti Submarine) aircraft that first flew in June 1953 and entered service with 703 Sqn on 7 Jan 54. The aircraft's powerplant was, like the rest of the aeroplane, rather odd. The Armstrong Siddeley Double Mamba ASMD1 engine provided 2950ehp and was basically two Mamba engines mounted side-by-side, linked to a common gearbox and driving contra-rotating, co-axial propellers - however, despite all this, the aircraft was underpowered.
Fairy Gannet AEW Mk3 observers cabin
At an early stage of the Gannet's development, it was realised that an AEW version could be developed to replace the aging piston-engined Douglas Skyraider AEW Mk1. However, in order to enable the Gannet to carry out the AEW role, it was necessary to make some significant modifications to the airframe and powerplant. The two rear cockpits, weapons bay and radar radome were removed. A large radome to house the AN/APS-20F radar from the Skyraider was positioned under the fuselage to the rear of the nosewheel bay. These changes resulted in the fin being increased in size and a longer undercarriage being fitted to provide ground clearance. The pilots cockpit remained virtually identical to the AS version, but in the AEW version the two radar operators were located in a cramped cabin buried in the fuselage and accessed by way of a door above the wing trailing edge. To cope with the extra weight of all the equipment, a new version of the Armstrong Siddeley Double Mamba engine was introduced, the 112 engine which provided 3875ehp and produced what can only be described as a distinctive noise. The prototype Gannet AEW3 first flew on 20 Aug 58 in the hands of the Chief Test Pilot, Peter Twiss, and an order for 44 Gannet AEW Mk3's was placed with Fairey.
Fairy Gannet AEW Mk3
In those distant days the RN could field no less than 8 carriers: Ark Royal, Eagle, Hermes, Victorious, Glory, Albion, Bulwark and Centaur. The AEW Gannet was only operated by 849 Sqn that was split into 4 flights, A, B, C and D which then operated a small number of aircraft from one of these carriers. However, the rundown of the RN carrier fleet soon began and in Oct 1966 C Flt disbanded. A Flt was next to disbanded in Jul 70, followed by D Flt in Jan 72, leaving only B Flt operating, to the best of their ability, an obsolescent aircraft from an obsolescent aircraft carrier with a keel full of concrete. Finally, in 1978 the old Ark Royal was dispatched to the scrapyard to be converted into razor blades and on 15 Dec 78 C Flt disbanded. The remaining Gannets were flown to RAF Lossiemouth and most were scrapped, although one or two survived to appear in Museums and a couple were briefly used for civilian tasks.
It says something about the pathetic state of the MOD finances and the procurement process in the 1970's, that it was decided to remove the completely obsolescent AN/APS-20F radars from the Gannet's and retrofit them into a number of obsolescent Shackletons in an effort to provide some AEW cover. It's worth considering that the AN/APS-20 radar first saw service with the Douglas Skyraider AEW Mk1 in 1952 and that the Shackleton AEWs had to remain in service until 1991, carrying essentially 35+ year old radars, because of the fiasco of the Nimrod AEW. Finally, common sense prevailed and the Boeing E-3D Sentry was purchased and at long last an AEW aircraft with reasonable capabilities eventually entered UK service.
Inspired by the design of the F-86 Sabre, the Fiat G-91 was the winning design in a 1953 NATO competition for a light fighter-bomber, beating various other aircraft designs including the Northrop F-5. However, for political and industrial reasons rather than any failing in the basic design, it was only adopted in any significant numbers by the Italian and West German air forces. The aircraft first flew in Italy on 9 Aug 56, was powered by a single licensed built version of the Bristol Siddeley Orpheus 803 jet engine and was armed with either four machine guns or two 30mm cannon and could just exceed Mach 1 at altitude. The Italian Air Force eventually acquired 174 versions of the aircraft all built by Aeritalia who also delivered 144 versions to Germany. A more advanced version was later built in Germany under licence by a consortium of Messerschmitt, Heinkel and Dornier who eventually delivered 294 aircraft. A later version, the G-91Y, was developed by Aeritalia and used two General Electric J-85 engines. Portugal also purchased the G-91, eventually operating a fleet of 74 aircraft. The G-91 was phased out of service in Portugal in 1993.
In 1957 it was decided to develop a fighter reconnaissance version of the basic design, designated the G-91R, which was flown for the first time in 1959. This aircraft was equipped with three Vinten 70mm cameras in the nose, one each facing either side and one facing forward. This version equipped both Italian, German and Portugese reconnaissance squadrons for many years. Version of the G-91 were produced throughout the 1960s, however, the type has now been withdrawn from service by all three countries.
In the late 1980’s one F-27 was converted by Fokker for SIGINT duties with the Finnish Air Force. The aircraft, Serial No 10300 coded FF-1, is operated by the 3rd Flight of the Air Support Sqn at Tikkakoski Air Base and appears to be optimised for COMINT duties with numerous aerials on the wings and fuselage.
It is assumed, given Finland’s location, that the aircraft is usually targeted against the Russian Baltic Fleet and generally operates at night. Finland is currently seeking a replacment for this F-27, probably with an aircraft around the size of the Gulfstream V and should have announced their preferred choice in early 2002.
William Powell Lear Snr was one the great engineers and inventors of the 20th century. Although he left school after the 8th Grade without qualifications, Lear began experimenting with radios and went on create the first car radio, the Motorola, before he switched his attention to aviation and developed the Lear F-5 autopilot for which he received the 1949 Collier Trophy from President Truman. He later went on to also develop the eight track stereo system, the first cassette tape player for cars.
In 1960 Lear moved to Switzerland and conceived the idea of a small high performance executive private jet with a performance similar to current jet fighters. He returned to Wichita in 1962 and by 1964 the initial Learjet went into production. This sleek, high-performance business jet became an overnight best-seller, setting various records for a business jet and eventually over 700 of these aircraft would be produced.
Brazilian Recce Learjet 35
Powered by two CJ610 turbojets and capable of cruising at 460kts at around 40,000ft, the original Learjet 23 usually operated with two pilots together with up to six passengers and soon attracted interest from the military. The Learjet 23 was quickly developed into lager versions, the Learjet 24 and 25, whilst the Learjet 28 and 29 Longhorns offered an increased wingspan and drag reducing winglets. In 1973 the larger Garrett AIResearch TFE371 turbofan powered Learjet 35, and the longer range Learjet 36, were introduced, offering greatly improved performance and fuel efficiency. The US Air Force was looking for an aircraft to replace their obsolescent T-39A Sabreliners and purchased 85 Learjet 35As. Known in the USAF as the C-21, the aircraft are currently operated by the Air National Guards 375th Airlift Wing at Scott Air Force Base and used for cargo and passenger airlift. Various foreign air forces, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Yugoslavia have also purchased Learjets for various military duties. Learjet marketed a version designed for photo-reconnaissance duties and designated the RC-35A.
Gates Learjet 35 T-23
Argentina purchased four Learjet 35A’s between 1978 and 1982, allocating the aircraft the registration T21 – T24 – the aircraft were flown by 11 Brigada Aerea based at Parana Entre Rios were they were used for photographic reconnaissance duties. Following the invasion of the Falklands Islands by Argentina in 1982 the four Learjets continued to be operated in the photo reconnaissance role and also used their accurate on-board navigation equipment to act as a pathfinder for Daggers and Skyhawk fighter bombers.
HMS Exeter launching a Sea Dart at T-24
On 7 Jun 82 it was decided to launch the four Learjets to make a high-speed, high-altitude photographic run in line abreast over the Falklands Sound / San Carlos area. At 1230Z, in broad daylight and good weather, the aircraft that were flying at 40,000ft were detected by HMS Exeter stationed in Falklands Sound which soon launched two Sea Dark missiles at the leader of the formation - T-24. One missile failed to guide correctly and dropped away, however, the other Sea Dart climbed inexorably towards the Learjet, eventually exploding and blowing off the aircrafts tail, whilst leaving the pressure hull intact.
The wreckage of T-24 on Pebble Island
The doomed Learjet slowly spiralled down, with the crew, consisting of Vicecomodoro Rodolfo de la Colina, Mayor Juan Falconier, Capitan Marcelo Lutufo, Suboficial Ayudante Francisco Luna and Suboficial Guido Marizza trapped inside and still transmitting frantically over the radio to the three other aircraft. The Learjet eventually crashed on the edge of the airstrip on Pebble Island, killing all five crew. The surviving aircraft are currently operated by 11 Brigada Aerea and are still based at Parana Entre Rios. On 9 Mar 06 Learjet T-21 was lost in a crash over Bolivia, killing all six crew on board.
Royal Thai Air Force recce Learjet 35
The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) operates two Learjet 35s flown by 402 Sqn based at Takhli. These two aircraft are probably the most sensitive operated by the RTAF and are used for high-level reconnaissance operations in support of anti terrorist operations in southern Thailand.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) took deliver of around 24 F-111 in the early 1970’s. Four aircraft (Serials: A8-126, A8-134, A8-143 and A8-146) were later converted into RF-111C aircraft, providing a dedicated reconnaissance platform. The sensors are mounted to a pallet adapted from the aircraft’s internal weapons bay and comprise KA-56E low altitude and KA-94A4 high altitude panoramic cameras, a pair of CAI KS-87C semi-oblique framing cameras, a Honeywell AAD-5 IRLS and an electro-optical viewfinder. With excellent range and performance these aircraft are particularly suited to operations over the vast expanse of Australia and elsewhere.
Operated by 82 Wing from RAAF Amberley, the aircraft, a number of aircraft were deployed for the first time in 2000 to assist in mapping East Timor after the disturbances in that region. 82 Wing deployed a mixed detachment of personnel and aircraft from 82 Wg, 1 Sqn, 6 Sqn and 23 Sqn to RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territories to fly reconnaissance missions in support of INTERFET, the stabilisation force that occupied East Timor after the Indonesians had departed.
RF-111C photo bay
The various photographic sensors allowed the RF-111C’s to conduct multiple photo runs at varying altitudes to obtain the best imagery. To ensure the RF-111C’s reconnaissance equipment is up to date, all the aircraft underwent an Avionics Update Programme in the late 1990’s and are capable of serving effectively for many more years
The history of the F-111 goes back to the 1950’s when the USAF outlined the requirement for a replacement for their F-100, F-101 and F-105 fighter-bombers. By the time a realistic specification had begun to take shape and the more outlandish ideas for a Mach 2+, 60,000ft, all-weather STOVL fighter bomber had been discarded, the US Navy also started outlining their specification for a two-seat carrier based fleet air defence fighter. Although almost anyone with even the most rudimentary interest in aviation would see that these two requirements were utterly different, one man was convinced that he knew better – Robert S McNamara, the new Secretary of Defence appointed by John F Kennedy. McNamara had enjoyed a very successful career in industry, culminating with his appointment as the first President of Ford Motors from outside the family of Henry Ford. McNamara arrived at the Department of Defence with his own entourage of ‘wizz-kids’ who seemed determined to shake things up and inject some corporate practice and industry thinking into the military. McNamara was undoubtedly an outstanding businessman, who introduced some much needed reforms into the Department of Defence, but he was also rather intellectually arrogant and often tended to completely ignore advice from his senior military staff - something that contributed to his unpopularity with all the service chiefs. McNamara insisted that a study was undertaken to identify a single aircraft to undertake both missions and, just to really muddy the waters, he also added into the pot the Army and Marine Corps requirement for a close air support aircraft. The new project was known as the Tactical Fighter Experimental or TFX.
It was soon obvious, even to McNamara, that the close air support mission could not be met by the TFX and this requirement was quickly dropped. However, McNamara insisted that the USAF and USN continue working towards developing a joint aircraft. Eventually after protracted wrangling and disputes, the Defence Department selected a General Dynamics design in preference to a Boeing design preferred by the USAF and USN – a decision that created a huge political controversy, however, the real problems had only just started. The F-111A USAF version first flew on 21 Dec 64, two years after the contract had been signed, followed by the F-111B USN version that first flew on 18 May 65. However, both aircraft were severely overweight, suffered from poor engine performance and were riddled with technical problems that would take years to resolve. Weight and size was always going to be a bigger issue for the USN and eventually it began to dawn on everyone that the F-111B was just too big and heavy for carrier operations – eventually in Jun 68 further funding for the F-111B was finally withdrawn from the Defence Budget. Thankfully for the USN, the F-111B debacle eventually resulted in the development of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, equipped with the Hughes Phoenix missile and complimentary radar system originally planned for the F-111B. After the usual teething troubles, the F-14 became a magnificent fighter and is only just being withdrawn from service as they are replaced by the Boeing F-18F Hornet.
The F-111A eventually entered service in Jun 67 with a detachment of the 4481st Tactical Fighter squadron at Nellis AFB where a select group of crews were used to iron out the aircraft’s remaining development problems and prepare the aircraft for combat in Vietnam. On 15 Mar 68, in Operation Combat Lancer, six F-111As flew from Nellis to Ta Khil Air Base in Thailand and during the next 8 months flew 55 missions at low level and generally at night and in poor weather, losing only three aircraft due to technical malfunctions. As the war in Vietnam slowly dragged on, it gradually dawned on many of the aircrew that effective electronic warfare would be one of the keys to survival in the era of multiple SAM threats. As an interim solution the USAF brought a number of Douglas B-66 Destroyers out of retirement and converted them to airborne jammers as the EB-66C. These aircraft operated in Vietnam from 1966-74 with the 41st and 42nd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons and effectively set out the basic operating principles for all subsequent USAF EW squadrons.
However, although the EB-66s were effective in a stand-off role, they were old aircraft and really lacked the necessary performance to accompany strike aircraft all the way to the target and back home. Dedicated EW also pods were also available and were often mounted on weapons pylons, but they could only provide a limited amount of power and reduced the ordnance that could be carried - what was needed was a new dedicated airborne tactical jamming system. In 1971, based on its experiences in SE Asia, the USAF commenced a study to develop a total airborne jamming system. What was needed was a aircraft that was fast enough to escort the strike aircraft, whilst also carrying the necessary electronic equipment to neutralise air defence radar’s and sweep a clear path for them to hit the target. By the end of 1974 the study had determined that the General Dynamics F-111A was the most suitable platform for an unarmed dedicated EW aircraft. The Grumman Aerospace Corporation, with their extensive experience of EA-6B Prowler EW operations, was an ideal choice for the conversion work and on 30 Jan 75 the company received a $85m contract to convert two prototype EF-111A aircraft in a 38 month programme. The new aircraft was named Raven – a term commonly applied to EW/ELINT operators. Like all EW aircraft the EF-111A also had the capability to record EW emission and provide very effective intelligence on any new system it encountered.
EF-111A Raven tail
It was soon determined that much of the 6,000lbs of EW equipment planned for the EF-111A would be housed in the weapons bay and covered by an extended aerodynamic ‘canoe’ radome. Inside the 16ft radome was the AN/ALQ-99E tactical jamming system, an improved version of the ALQ-99 used by the EA-6B Prowler. The AN/ALQ-99E had all 10 jamming transmitters, five exciters to drive the transmitters and six multi-channel digitally tuned receivers covering 7 wavebands mounted in the radome. The increased requirement of the EF-111A resulted in the aircraft being equipped with 90 kVA generators, replacing the original 60 kVA generators. The other significant change was the addition of a slim, deep pod on top of the fin that housed all the aircraft’s receivers, together with a processor to detect radar emissions - some 600lbs of weight. By 1977 the aircraft were ready and in September that year testing began by Det 3 of the Tactical Warfare Centre at Mountain Home AFB where it was intended to base the first operational squadron. After extensive testing, the USAF authorised conversion of a further six F-111As and then after further testing, a further 34 F-111As were authorised to be converted – bringing the final total of EF-111As to 42 aircraft. The final cost of the aircraft was around $900 million, including logistic support and spares.
Part of the work undertaken by Det 3 was to determine how best to utilize the new EF-111A against enemy threats. The most likely scenario would call for the EF-111A to be operated against Warsaw Pact forces in Europe should hostilities suddenly break out. Three major roles were planned, barrier stand-off, deep penetration and close support. In the barrier stand-off role the EF-111A would orbit over friendly forces outside the range of hostile ground based weapons and project a massive jamming barrier to disrupt enemy radars. Behind this barrier friendly forces would refuel safely or take up position without the knowledge of the enemy. In the deep penetration role, which involved the elimination of a high priority target, the EF-111A would escort strike aircraft into and out of enemy territory, jamming everything en-route. In the close support role, the EF-111A would accompany the strike aircraft to the target area and then loiter while the attack was completed, before accompanying them back out of hostile airspace. The real key to the success of the EF-111A was that its sheer performance allowed it to accomplish the 2nd and 3rd roles far better than any previous aircraft. Until the arrival of the EF-111A, EW aircraft lacked sufficient performance to accompany strike aircraft. Now there was an EW aircraft that was not only capable of supersonic speed at low level and Mach 2 at height, but also carried over 32,000lbs of fuel giving it a range of over 2,000 miles. In fact, as most strike aircraft usually carried fuel and weapons on under-wing pylons that greatly inhibited their performance, the EF-111A Raven was always capable of greater performance than the strike aircraft it was escorting.
The first unit to operate the EF-111A Raven was the 388th Electronic Combat Squadron (ECS) based at Mountain Home AFB which received its first aircraft on 5 Nov 81. The 388th ECS trained all the remaining Raven crews and was then deactivated and replaced by the 390th ECS that remained at Mountain Home. The only other unit to operate the EF-111A Raven was the 42 ECS which was reactivated on 1 Jul 83 at RAF Upper Heyford in England and received its final Raven in late 1985. In 1994 all the EF-111As were updated with 10 new subsystems, including a Doppler radar and internal navigation system. Then after a number of failures of the F-111s original analog flight control system, the installation of a new digital flight control system was completed in 1997. The EF-111A Ravens saw action first in the 1981 Operation Eldorado Canyon strike against Libya and then went on to even greater success during Operation Desert Storm in 1990.
However, after the collapse of the Soviet empire in the early 1990’s there was considerable pressure for a peace dividend and this began to have a serious affect on military budgets. One casualty was the F-111 fleet that began to shrink as aircraft were scrapped and, as the size of the fleet reduced, and the cost of supporting the remaining aircraft began to increase, the surviving EF-111As began to become a target for the budget cutters. Two other factors had a big hand in the final decision; the ALQ-99E jamming system needed a major upgrade to enable it to cope with the latest generation of Russian radars. Unlike the EA-6B Prowler where you could just replace an underwing pod, the EF-111A carried all its jamming equipment internally and this would necessitate a costly and lengthy refurbishment. The other factor was a change in USAF operational doctrine away from the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) to the Destruction of Enemy Air Defences (DEAD). Instead of jamming air defence radars and SAM sites, leaving them still capable of identifying and destroying subsequent aircraft, the new doctrine called for F-117 Stealth fighters and HARM equipped F-16CJ to destroy the sites ahead of and then alongside the strike force. A lengthy and acrimonious battle to determine the future of airborne EW broke out in the US EW community, but eventually the decision was made to cancel the upgrade to the ALQ-99E, retire all the EF-111As and replace the capability with the EA-6B manned by joint USN/UASF crews. Mountain Home AFB eventually closed as part of the draw-down of forces and the remaining Ravens were transferred to Cannon AFB, New Mexico and then eventually the final EF-111A Raven was retired on 2 May 98.
Many commentators believed at the time that the decision to retire the EF-111A Raven early was a very bad decision and probably only the most ardent supporter of the EA-6B would choose to disagree. Whilst the new doctrine has been generally effective, the most over-worked and over-tasked aircraft in all recent conflicts has been the EA-6B. Furthermore, it still hasn’t got the necessary speed for strike escort and is mainly used as a ‘stand-off’ jammer. New Soviet radars have yet to appear in great numbers, but many old SAM and surveillance radars remain in service with a variety of potential adversaries and these would still be vulnerable to the EF-111A. Because of the possibility of HARM attack, the crews of these old radar systems have become ‘emmision shy’, making the ability to locate and destroy them far more difficult. The most obvious solution is to simply jam them out of the equation – but with the Raven no longer around and with fewer EA-6Bs available, this sometimes simply isn’t an option – however, according to some people, that’s progress!
The General Dynamics F-16 Falcon is operated by numerous countries, but only a limited number operate the aircraft in the tactical reconnaissance role.
Royal Netherlands Air Force
The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF) or Koninklijke Luchtmacht (Klu) took delivery of 177 F-16A’s and 36 F-16B’s between Jun 1979 and Feb 1992 making the Klu the fourth largest operator worldwide most aircraft were manufactured by Dutch industry and assembled by Fokker at Schipol. Six squadrons were originally equipped with the F-16, but only 306 Sqn had a reconnaissance role.
A total of 22 F-16’s were adapted to carry the Orpheus reconnaissance pod prior to their delivery in 1983/4 and are offically designated F-16A(R) – in 1995 an additional 3 aircraft were re-configured to F-16A(R) to make up for attrition losses. However, the Orpheus system was fairly antiquated, having been originally purchased in 1974 to equip the F-104G, and as an interim measure the Klu purchased four Per Udsen MARS (Medium Altitude Reconnaissance System) pods at the beginning of 1997. The pods are equipped with ex-USAF KS-87B wet film cameras and need replacing. The Klu have a requirement for 24 new reconnaissance pods. After a Mid Life Upgrade (MLU) between 1997 and 2001 all the remaining 138 F-16’s in service with the Klu are able to carry a reconnaissance pod, marking the end of the F-16A(R) designation.
Royal Air Force of Oman
The Royal Air Force of Oman is known to operate 12 F-16C/D aircraft equipped with a number of pod mounted BAe Systems F-9120 Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System.
Polish Air Force
The Polish Air Force have 48 F-16C/D aircraft on order and these aircraft will be utilise seven Goodrich DB-110 electro-optical pods, together with two ground exploitation stations, one of which will be mobile.
The need to replace the Spitfire PR XI and PR10 made the Gloster Meteor the obvious choice and eventually the Air Ministry requested Gloster to develop a dedicated fighter reconnaissance version. The Meteor F4 was chosen to be adapted and the first aircraft VT347 was fitted with vertical and oblique cameras, unfortunately this aircraft broke up on its maiden flight killing the pilot Rodney Dryland. Eventually Gloster developed the FR9, which retained the usual four-cannon armament of the standard Meteor, as well as a variety of portholes for forward and oblique photography using the F24 camera in a new nose and two further cameras in the rear fuselage for vertical photography. In total 126 FR9's were built and served with 2, 8, 79 and 208 Sqns. The FR9 served effectively in the low-level reconnaissance role for a number of years before being replaced by the Canberra and Swift. After service with the RAF a number of FR9's were refurbished and sold to Ecuador, Israel and Syria.
Gloster Meteor PR10 nose
However, probably the most effective reconnaissance version of the Meteor was the PR10, which could reach an altitude of 47,000ft and had an endurance with wing and ventral tanks of 3 hrs 40mins, giving an absolute range of 1000nms. Intended for high-altitude strategic reconnaissance, this aircraft was fitted with the long-span wings of the F3, an F4 tail unit and an F8 centre section. The nose camera section was the same as the FR9, but the PR10 also carried two F52 cameras in the ventral position of the rear fuselage. A total of 59 PR10’s were produced and they equipped 2 Sqn, 13 Sqn, 81 Sqn and 541 Sqn.
Gloster Meteor PR 10 VS 975 541 sqn
PR10s were issued to 541 Sqn at Benson in Dec 1950 and in Jun 51 the squadron deployed to Buckeburg as part of 2ATAF. It is believed that between 1951-5 the PR10’s operated by 541 Sqn took part in a series of short-range, high-level reconnaissance sorties over East Germany. These cross border reconnaissance flights were ended when the Soviet Air Force deployed MiG-19 interceptors to East Germany in 1956, but the PR10s continued to fly reconnaissance sorties along the edge of East German airspace.
In 1988 GROB were awarded a contract by the German Federal Ministry for Research and Technology to develop an advanced high altitude research aircraft, the G520 Strato 1. GROB stated that the aircraft was intended to undertake communications monitoring, geophysical research, pollution and weather monitoring. Whether a market actually existed for this type of aircraft, particularly as many of these functions can now be easily be undertaken by commercial satellites, remains a matter of debate.
To test their plan to construct an all-composite aircraft, GROB decided to build a proof of concept aircraft known as the Strato 1 /E. Powered by a single 750 shp Garrett TPE 331-14 engine driving a four blade composite propeller of 3.4m diameter, this aircraft had a pressurised cockpit for the pilot and a wingspan of 33m. Capable of carrying a payload of 1,000kg, the aircraft had a range of 4,000km, an endurance of 13hrs and could operate up to 50,000ft.
GROB G 520 Strato 2C
GROB then pressed ahead and within 11 months a second design, the G 520 Strato 2C, took to the air. Built entirely of composite material and with a 108ft wing span, the aircraft was the world’s largest all composite fully-certified manned aircraft. During flight tests the aircraft quickly demonstrated its potential by climbing to an altitude of 53,574ft and capturing five FAI records for altitude, time to climb and flight endurance.
GROB G 850 Strato 2C Building on the success of the G520 Strato 1, GROB then designed and built the even larger G850 Strato 2C, again using fibre composite materials. Powered by two turbocharged Teledyne TSIOL-550 pusher engines, with a five blade propeller of 6 meters diameter, the G850 Strato 2C soon demonstrated the ability to remain airborne for up to 50hrs and could in theory fly approximately half way around the world. During a typical surveillance / research mission the aircraft would carry a crew of two pilots and two operators / scientists in a reasonably roomy pressure cabin over a 3,500km radius of action, lingering around for over 8hrs between 50,000 and 75,000ft as the fuel burnt off.
These unusual, but highly capable, aircraft were used for a number of research projects when they first entered service, however, their current use and whereabouts is unknown.
For many years the US Marine Corps operated a number of EF-10B Skyknights as EW platforms, particularly in Vietnam, but as these aircraft aged it became essential that an effective replacement was developed and a version of the A-6A Intruder attack aircraft was soon identified as the most cost-effective option. A total of 28 A2F-1Q aircraft were built or converted from A-6A airframes and these aircraft were split into three squadrons and were used to support strike aircraft by jamming enemy radar systems, whilst at the same time gathering intelligence on North Vietnamese electronic systems - the aircraft were soon re-designated the EA-6A.
The two-seat EA-6A was quite similar in appearance to the A-6A, but carried signals surveillance and recording systems, various EW jammers and a number of EW antennas housed in a bulbous fairing on top of the tail. Nevertheless, the EA-6A was always a 'stop-gap' design and, despite the aircraft operating successfully, a number of significant problems were identified, particularly the need for the aircraft to carry additional EW operators and jammers. The EA-6As continued to operate until the late 1970's and began to be withdrawn when the EA-6B was introduced, although some aircraft were used as electronic aggressor training aircraft until the early 1990's.
With the experience gained in combat operations over North Vietnam, plans were soon being drawn up for a larger, more effective version of the aircraft - this became the EA-6B Prowler. To accommodate two additional crew members, the A-6 fuselage was extended by 54 inches and the pod on the tail was enlarged. The four crew are accommodated in a side-by-side twin cockpit layout which has improved crew efficiency on long missions. The EA-6B is more than 10,000lbs heavier than the A-6E Intruder and although the wing areas are the same, the additional weight does adversely affect the maneuvering capability of the larger aircraft. Rather underpowered for its weight, the Prowler is powered by two Pratt and Whitney J52-P408A turbojets which each produced 19,400 lbs of thrust, this gives the aircraft a cruising speed of around 500kts, a maximum ceiling of 40,000ft and an unrefueled range of of over 1,000nms. The EA-6B first flew on 25 May 68 and entered operational service in July 1971.
The Prowler's crew consists of a pilot and three Electronic Counter-measures Officers (ECMOs). The senior officer among the four crew is normally the mission commander. The ECMO1, who sits to the right of the pilot, is responsible, along with the pilot, for operating the navigation and communication systems, the air-to-ground radar, the defensive electronic countermeasures systems and firing the HARM. In the rear cockpit ECMO-2 and ECMO-3 are responsible for operating the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) and the ALQ-99 OBS which gathers tactical electronic order of battle data which can be relayed back to tactical headquarters whilst airborne and stored for later detailed analysis on the ground.
The AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System is the heart of EA-6B and this consists of of up to five externally mounted pods and equipment in the fairing above the tail. However, the EA-6B normally operates with three external pods, two under each wing and one under the centre fuselage, leave two wing stations free for either fuel tanks or HARM missiles. The pods generate their own electrical power using a Ram Air Turbine (a small electrical generator powered by a small propeller on the nose) and each pod contains two continuous wave jamming transmitters, covering one of seven frequency bands, use beam steering to direct the jamming signal at the threat and an exciter to adjust the jamming signal. Each pod also contains a computer linked to the ALQ-99 Central Processing Unit (CPU) which processes the various threat signals, manages jamming operations and displays the data to the crew. The fairing on top of the tail contains a variety of surveillance receivers that are capable of detecting hostile radar transmissions at considerable range and long before that radar is capable of detecting the aircraft. Detection, identification, direction-finding and jammer-set-on-sequence may be performed automatically or by the crew.
For a number of years the Prowler was used just as a very effective EW aircraft, but it was eventually realised that it made sense to also give the aircraft an even greater offensive capability. Since 1986 Prowlers have been capable of carrying the Texas Instruments AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) on any of the underwing pylons. With a range of over 80 miles and a very effective blast-fragmentation warhead, the missile can be fired on any hostile radar transmitter and has a high rate of success and quickly encourages the enemy to shut down surveillance and missile guidance radars.
To ensure the aircraft remained effective throughout their long service, the EA-6B fleet has been progressively upgraded throughout it's career under three programmes know as Increased Capability (ICAP) 1-3. Currently, the EA-6B fleet is a mix of aircraft in either ICAP II or III configuration The ICAP III programme began in Nov 00 with the upgraded aircraft first flying in Nov 01. The $200 million ICAP III programme will allow selection and switching between jamming frequencies accoring to the threat, rather than diluting the effectiveness of the system by pre-emptively targeting a broad spectum. The new system now locks onto a frequency and can mimic frequency hopping patterns. New crew displays, Link 16 datalink, additional processors and a new tactical display interface complete the upgrade. Initial operational capability of the revised aircraft is expected during 2005.
The premature withdrawal of the EF-111A Raven in 1998 left the EA-6B as the only dedicated EW aircraft in service and since then the aircraft has become another 'high demand - low density' platform, high on the 'wish-list' of every commander in an operational theatre. Production of the EA-6B ended in 1991 and, of the 170 built, around 123 Prowlers are still in service, with around 105 'active' aircraft divided between eight squadrons - four mixed USAF/USN squadrons and four USMC squadrons, that operate either as part of a Carrier Air Group or from shore-based airfields. Although plans are already underway to replace the Prowler with the Boeing EA-18G Growler, many doubt whether this smaller aircraft will ever the capability of the EA-6B Prowler and, with a crew of two it will certainly more automated systems. Nevertheless, with the EA-18G Growler is still some way away from squadron service, it will still be many years before the distinctive shape of the EA-6B Prowler disappears from active service.
The harsh lesson of what can happen when a naval task force gets involved in a shooting war without an effective Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system was drawn into sharp focus during the Falklands War of 1982. In this conflict, played out in the unforgiving climate of the South Atlantic, the inability of the RAF to provide AEW cover with their antiquated Avro Shackleton AEW Mk2 aircraft from a nearby land base as planned, left the Royal Navy (RN) taskforce dangerously exposed and had a direct impact when HMS Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyer were lost to attacks by low-flying by Super Etendard aircraft launching Exocet missiles.
As far back as 1942 the US Navy had recognised the treat posed by low-flying aircraft approaching a naval task force underneath radar cover, which is limited to a radar horizon of around 30 miles, giving little warning of an impending attack. This requirement led to Admiral Ernest J King, the US Navy C-in-C of the US Navy, to issue a request to Dr Vannevar Bush, the director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (ORSD) to develop a radar-relay system which would allow the exchange of radar information between ships. The radar-relay project, NA-112 was established in June 1942, with D Division of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Radiation Laboratory (MIT-RL) doing much of the initial work, but made slow progress. In early 1944, following a review of the progress of NA-112, it was decided to change the focus of the project away from a radar-relay system to the development of an AEW system, renamed Project NA-178, with the MIT-RL again leading the work. In Feb 1945 the development programme was renamed Project Cadillac, after Cadillac Mountain in Maine where much of the early testing was conducted.
The AEW radar developed under Project Cadillac was known as the APS-20 and during 1944 it was mounted in a General Motors TBM Avenger and as the TBM-3W this became the first AEW aircraft to undergo testing. The APS-20 radar was one of the great scientific developments of WW2, but was still undergoing testing when the war ended. The radar operated in the S-Band and featured a 8ft by 3ft parabolic dish antenna mounted in a plastic fairing underneath the aircraft, giving 360 degree coverage. The radar system also incorporated various highly advanced innovations including an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) as well as a transmitter that relayed both the radar picture and the IFF information to receiver stations onboard adjacent ships. The relay transmission system was called ‘Bellhop’, but it was a long time before it operated effectively. Two operators worked the radar and ‘Bellhop’ system, but excessive clutter, the lack of an automatic tracking system and symbology were significant weaknesses – radar returns were manually tracked by drawing marks with a chinagraph pencil on the screen itself, significantly limiting the capacity of the operators.
Under a programme known as Cadillac II, the Navy also fitted the APS-20 radar system onto the B-17G aircraft, giving it the designation PB-1W, but although this aircraft had much greater endurance and could carry a larger crew, it could not operate from a carrier deck and entered operational service after the war in the Pacific was over. The US Navy also investigated the benefits of mounting the APS-20 on an airship and although this platform could offer much greater endurance, it still possessed many of the weakness of the PB-1W. Eventually a number of carrier capable Grumman AF-2W Guardians were equipped with the APS-20 radar, but the US Navy seemed intent on using the AEW capabilities of the aircraft in other roles and mainly employed the aircraft in partnership with an anti-submarine version of the same aircraft, known as the AF-2S, to located and destroy enemy submarines.
The US Navy then decided to replace their GM TBM-3W Avengers by modifying a version of the Douglas Skyraider into an AEW aircraft by again fitting it with the APS-20 radar and associated systems. Eventually 29 of the Douglas AD-3W Skyraiders were produced between 1948-9 and these were followed by 168 versions of the AD-4W Skyraider produced between 1950-1. The US also sold 50 versions of the AD-4W to the Royal Navy. The final version of this aircraft was the AD-5W, which incorporated many changes learnt from operating the earlier versions, in total 218 examples were built. All AEW Skyraiders had a ventral radome housing the APS-20 radar and generally operated with a single pilot and two crewmen, although some aircraft also carried a technician as well. However, the common thread in all these aircraft was the APS-20 radar, which suffered badly from clutter, lacked an automatic tracking system and associated symbology, that significant weaknesses which by the mid to late 1950’s needed urgent attention.
The only solution was a purpose-built AEW aircraft with a completely new AEW radar and associated systems. In 1955 the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics issued a requirement for a new carrier based AEW and Air Intercept Control (AIC) aircraft, which was won by Grumman. However, the Navy accepted that there would be a long delay before the many technical problems with the winning design could be overcome; however, because a replacement AEW aircraft was urgently required, an interim design was accepted. The result was the Grumman E-1B Tracer, nicknamed the ‘Willie Fudd’, a modified version of the Grumman Tracker. This aircraft was fitted with the APS-82 Hazeltine S-Band radar mounted above the fuselage in a teardrop shaped radome. This was the same radar that had been used in the WV-2E Super Constellation and, although it was a great improvement over the APS-20 radar, the supporting systems still lacked data symbology, automatic tracking and only had a limited height finding capability. Nevertheless, the data links were vast improvement on the old Bellhop system. The E-1B was crewed by two pilots and two controllers and usually operated between 5,000 -7,000ft. The aircraft remained in service for 16 years from 1962 to 1978 until it was replaced by the E-2A – so much for an interim design!
The new design that caused all the delay was the Grumman E-2A Hawkeye. This was the first time that an aircraft had been designed from the outset solely for AEW operations, rather than being an adaptation of an existing design. Nevertheless, the problems facing the design engineers at Grumman were immense and were compounded by having to constrain the design to enable the aircraft to operate from the older ‘modified Essex class’ carriers. These ‘smaller’ carriers were all built during WW2 and later modified to allow them to operate jet aircraft. Consequently, various height, weight and length restrictions had to be factored into the E-2A design, resulting in some handling characteristics which were less than ideal. In the event the E-2A only operated from the modified Essex class for a few years before the ships were scrapped; in retrospect the design would have benefited considerably if this requirement had been lifted from the outset and the restrictions had never been imposed.
The Grumman design engineers faced enormous difficulties in building a carrier based aircraft that could carry a crew of two pilots and three controllers, as well as the radar and associated systems, within the various design parameters that had been set and the end result was by any standards an extraordinary accomplishment and one that has never been successfully completed by any other country. The new B-band AN/APS-96 radar designed by General Electric was carried in a rotating rotodome mounted above the fuselage. The lower frequency and high pulse repetition interval of the radar gave it greater range, far more power, vastly better detection capability and made it much less affected by weather and clutter. Powered by two powerful Allison T56-A-8 turboprops, the aircraft was designed to operate between 25,000 to 30,000ft giving it a radar range in excess of 200nms and enabling it to detect aircraft operating up to 100,000ft. Computer systems would automatically track targets and generate speed and heading information for the controllers. However, although the E-2A Hawkeye first flew on 29 Apr 1961 and entered service with VAW-11 in Jan 1964, major problems lay ahead and it would be many, many years before a modern and reliable AEW system would be in operational service.
By 1965 the major development problems were still delaying the E-2A Hawkeye got so bad that the aircraft was actually cancelled after 59 aircraft had already been built. Particular difficulties were being experienced because of inadequate cooling in the closely packed avionics department – a problem that has bedevilled many AEW designs. Early computer and complex avionics systems generated considerable heat and, if this wasn’t channelled away effectively, caused serious problems, eventually resulting in some failure or other. These system failures continued long after the aircraft entered service and at one point reliability got so bad that the entire fleet of aircraft was grounded. Eventually in 1965, after Navy officials had been forced to explain to Congress why four production contracts had been signed before the extensive avionics testing had been completed, action was taken. The unreliable rotary drum computer was replaced by a Litton L-304 digital computer and various other avionic systems were replaced – the upgraded aircraft were designated E-2Bs. In total 49 of the 59 E-2As were upgraded to E-2B standard and these aircraft replaced the E-1B Tracers in the various US Navy AEW squadrons and it was the E-2B that was to set a new standard for carrier-based AEW aircraft.
Grumman E-2C Hawkeye
However, although the upgraded E-2B was a vast improvement on the unreliable E-2A, the US Navy knew the design had much greater capability and still had yet to achieve the performance and reliability parameters set out in the original design back in 1957. In Apr 1968 it instigated the next reliability improvement programme. In addition, now that the capabilities of the aircraft were starting to be realised, more were needed and, as well as the 49 E-2Bs that would be upgraded, another 28 new E-2Cs were ordered. The improvements in the new and upgraded aircraft were concentrated in the radar and computer performance. The new General Electric AN/APS-120 UHF radar was fitted to all the aircraft and this incorporated an Airborne Moving Target Indicator (AMTI), finally giving the aircraft an overland capability and included a linked AN/APS-72 or 76 IFF. Additional Litton L-304 computers were also fitted to increase the signal processing capability. Of probably even greater significance was the installation in the nose of the Litton AN/ALR-59 Passive Detection System (PDS) Electronic Support Measures (ESM) which enabled the aircraft to detect other radar or radio systems at very long ranges, before they had any possibility of detecting the Hawkeye. Further interceptions by the PDS allowed the source of the signal to be triangulated, revealing its location. The problem associated with increased heat generated by the additional electrical systems was solved by adding an additional air-scoop housing a vapour cycle cooling system condenser. To compensate for the increased weight, the engines were replaced by more powerful T56-A-425 turboprops. When it was finally introduced into service in 1974, the E-2C possessed a unique capability and was by some distance the best AEW system in the world; at last all the delays and problems experienced during the lengthy development programme were beginning to pay off.
However capable the early E-2C was everyone associated with the programme knew that the E-2C could be improved and were determined to continue development of the system. To this end, throughout its service life the E-2C has been almost continually upgraded. In the 1970s the first upgrade added the Total Radiation Aperture Control-Antenna (TRAC-A) and the General Electric (later Lockheed Martin) AN/APS0138 radar. The ESM PDS was replaced with the Litton AN/ALR-73 and addition Rockwell-Collins AN/ARC-182 Have Quick HF/VHF/UHF secure radios replaced the communications system, reducing the possibility of electronic jamming. The computer memory of these aircraft was increased to 16K, a pathetic amount in 2006, but a really large amount at the time. These upgraded E-2Cs could track up to 300 targets and were known as Group 0 aircraft – they began arriving on carriers in the 1980s, serving until the 1990s when they were replaced by Group 2 aircraft.
Grumman E-2C Hawkeye
In the next production run between 1988 and 1991 saw 18 aircraft built to the Group 1 standard. The AN/APS-139 radar was fitted and this fed a Standard Central Air Data Computer (SCADC), linked to an improved version of the Litton L-304 computer, increased by 400% the number of targets that could be tracked. Additional cooling capacity was added to dissipate the extra heat generated by the new electrical systems and more powerful Allison T-56-A-427 turboprops were installed. A total of 18 Group 1 aircraft were built with the first entering service on 8 Aug 81 - this version was only flown by the Atlantic fleet squadrons.
Grumman E-2C Group 2
The Group 2 configuration includes the AN/APS-145 Advanced Radar Processing System (ARPS) housed inside a Randtron AN/APA-171 rotodome antenna group alongside a Hazeltine AN/APX-76 IFF interrogator set. This new system allowed simultaneous detection and tracking of surface and airborne targets and offered increased resistance to jamming. The Combat Information Centre (CIC) in the cabin was also upgraded – the old circular monochrome display screens were replaced by three colour 11in x 11in Enhanced Main Display Unit (EMDU) tactical display screens which could be accessed by either buttons or a lightpen - additional data was displayed on a smaller Auxiliary Display Unit (ADU). Inside the CIC the Combat Information Centre Officer (CICO) is seated in the middle console, on his right is the Radar Officer (RO) (always the most junior member of the CIC team) and on his left is the Air Control Officer (ACO). All three face the consoles mounted on the port side of the aircraft on seats that can swivel to face forward for take-off and landing – no ejection seats are fitted for any of the crew and parachutes are not usually carried. The CICO, who is always the Mission Commander, chooses the parameters of the flight and assigns tasks within the CIC. All three controllers monitor the data from the various systems. However, the ACO is primarily responsible for establishing links to aircraft and other units via the Have Quick radios and datalink systems and is equipped with a Multi Function Control Display Unit (MFCDU) as well as an EMDU. A total of 50 Group 2 aircraft were eventually delivered, with 12 being upgraded Group 1 aircraft. This new version entered service in June 1992 and has served with the Pacific and Atlantic Fleet squadrons.
Grumman Hawkeye E-2C
At one point it was hoped that the Common Support Aircraft (CSA) would replace the E-2C, as well as the Lockheed S-3B Viking ASW and tanker aircraft, the Lockheed ES-3A ELINT platform and the Grumman C-2A Greyhound Carrier On-board Delivery (COD) aircraft. However, the CSA was cancelled in the late 1990s, allowing plans for the upgrade of the E-2C to continue. By 1997 the US Navy intended that all the front-line squadrons would be equipped with a total of 75 Group 2 aircraft. However, when Grumman merged with Northrop in 1994 plans began to be finalised for the next upgrade, known as the Group 2 Plus, which eventually became known as the Hawkeye 2000. By this time computer technology had advanced enormously and the Litton L-304 mission computer was really beginning to show its age. In its place was installed the smaller, much faster and considerably lighter Raytheon Model 904 mission computer, with an open architecture system that made future upgrades much easier. A Removable Media Cartridge (RMC) allowed mission related data to be loaded before take-off and then extracted after landing for review. The EMDU and ADU units were replaced by a 21in x 21in Advanced Control Indicator Set (ACIS), accessed via a trackball rather than a lightpen. The old ESM was replaced by the Lockheed Martin AN/AQL-217 system, giving increased coverage and the ability to classify more emitters. The additional heat generated necessitated the installation of a new Allied Signal vapour cycle cooling system.
Grumman Hawkeye 2000 E-2C
Probably the most significant new system installed on the Hawkeye 2000 is the Raytheon Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) housed in a bulge underneath the centre of fuselage. The CEC is a system which allows warships and the E-2C to share theatre air defence data, across multiple platforms, via a C-band wideband data network. The CEC provides warships with over-the-horizon surveillance giving them much greater time to respond to an emerging threat. Housed in the under-fuselage bulge is the AN/USG-3 Common Airborne Set (CAS), consisting of a Digital Distribution System (DDS) and the 54in electrically steerable circular End Fire Array (EFA) antenna. To ensure the benefits of the CEC are not restricted by connectivity problems, an AN/ARC-210 SATCOM was also installed with the antenna housed in a distinctive circular bulge in the middle of the rotodome. However, not all Hawkeye 2000s will carry the CEC and to date only 17 aircraft have been fitted with this desirable system.
The other really noticeable change in the Hawkeye 2000 is the replacement of the old four-bladed propellers, which were no longer in production, with eight-bladed Hamilton Standard NP2000 composite propellers. The new propellers are more efficient, give less vibration and are quieter and also allow individual blades to be changed. The first Hawkeye 2000, which still retained the E-2C designation, was delivered in Oct 01 and the new variant reached initial operating capability in 2003. Original planes called for the E-2C Group 2 aircraft to be upgraded to the Hawkeye 2000 standard; however, this was later replaced by a plan for a multi-year production of new Hawkeye 2000 aircraft, with the factory at Northrop Grumman’s plant at St Augustine, Florida producing four aircraft per year. To reflect the new capabilities of these aircraft, the US Navy AEW squadrons are now known as Battle Management Command and Control Squadrons.
As before the planning for the next generation of Hawkeye, known as the Advanced Hawkeye or E-3D is already well under way. The E-3D will introduced some new stronger airframe structures, machined from single blocks of lightweight aluminium or made of composite materials, enabling the aircraft to operate at higher weights. The new APY-9 radar, combining mechanical rotation and electronic scanning, will be fitted that will allow various new scanning modes, including a purely electronic scan where the rotodome is held constant, focusing more energy on the target. The greater power of the radar will increase the volume of airspace covered by some 250%. External difference will include the replacement of the ‘dunces cap’ of AN/ARC-210 SATCOM with a flush fitting unit. The CEC bulge on the underside of the aircraft will be joined by a ‘horse collar’ fairing housing a trailing wire for some new communication or detection system. As with every upgrade to the Hawkeye, the cooling system will be upgrade and the capacity increased.
Inside the CIC new larger displays will be installed and additional communications facilities will be added. These include a new computer system which will act like a ‘server in the sky’ for other aircraft, including UAVs, enabling much greater network connectivity. In the cockpit the old 1960s style analogue instruments will be replaced by three multi-functional 17in flat screen displays, enabling the co-pilot to act as a fourth operator during the mission. An in-flight refuelling probe will be added at a later date, once issues concerning the effect the jet efflux from the Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet on the rotodome have been resolved. Until 23 Sep 2005 the US Navy Hawkeye’s were organised into east and west coast wings, supporting the Atlantic and Pacific fleets respectively. However, the east coast wing has now been disestablished and all aircraft are now organised into a single wing based at Point Mugu, California. Construction of the first E-2D began in Apr 05 and the first flight is expected to take place in Aug 07. Initial operating capability is scheduled for 2011 and under current plans a total of 75 aircraft will be built, equipping 12 squadrons with four aircraft each. Currently a four aircraft detachment equips each Carrier Battle Group, although the greater use these highly capable aircraft will be put through have led some calls for the detachment size to be increased to six aircraft.
IAF Grumman E-2C Daya
The success of the E-2 Hawkeye led to many other countries wanting to acquire an AEW capability and they watched the development of the aircraft carefully. However, the USA has, quite rightly, always been very careful which country it allows to acquire any new advanced military capability, furthermore, it wasn’t until the appearance of the E-2C that the system was actually sufficiently robust to attract an export order. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) was the first export customer and received four E-2C Group 0 aircraft between 1977 and 1978 where they were known in Hebrew as the ‘Daya’ or Kite and given the designations 941, 942, 944 and 946. The IAF locally fitted in-flight refuelling probes to two of these aircraft to extend their time on-station. These aircraft played a major part in the Beka Valley battles of 1982 where, in a carefully co-ordinated attack, the Syrian Air Force (SAF) were drawn into the air and destroyed en-mass by IAF F-15s and F-16s guided onto their targets by the Hawkeye’s. The effect of this utter annihilation of the cream of the SAF, where a total of 85 aircraft were eventually lost, was so traumatic that they have never again attempted to challenge the IAF.
IAF Grumman E-2C Daya
However, the IAF E-2Cs were still optimised for over-sea, rather than over-land operations and although they were later modified by some locally produced avionics to improve their performance, they still lacked many of the capabilities the IAF wanted. To overcome these deficiencies the Israeli defence industry was developing the Phalcon AEW&C system and, when this became operational in 1994, the four E-2Cs were retired and became surplus to requirements.
Mexican Navy Grumman E-2C
In 2003 three of these aircraft were advertised for sale in Flight magazine and were subsequently sold to Mexico, supposedly at a ‘knock-down’ price and came complete with a comprehensive spares package, but without the two in-flight refuelling probes, which were removed. After refurbishment by the Bedek Division of Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI), the three aircraft, 941, 942 and 946 were then delivered to the Mexican Navy, with the final aircraft arriving in Nov 2004. One IAF E-2C, 944, was retained for display at the IAF Museum at Hatzerim. The three Mexican E-2Cs are operated by the Mexican Navy’s Primer Escuadron Aeronaval Alerta Temprana y Reconocimiento (PRIMESCATREC), the 1st Naval Early Warning Squadron, based at Tapachula, where they are mainly used for maritime surveillance duties, combating drug trafficking and protecting off-shore oil installations.
Japanese Grumman E-2C
Japan was the next customer acquiring eight E-2C Group 0 aircraft between 1982 – 1985, followed by five more between 1992-3. All the aircraft are operated by 601 Hikotai, Keikai Kokutai (AEW Air Group) located at Misawa in northern Honshu. Japan originally planned to upgrade these aircraft to Group 2 standard, but instead opted up upgrade all 13 aircraft to the Hawkeye 2000 standard in a rolling programme, with the first refurbished aircraft flying on 14 Jul 04.
SAF Grumman E-2C
In 1987, following Japan’s example, Singapore acquired four Group 0 Hawkeye’s. The aircraft have been continually upgraded throughout their service and are currently up to Hawkeye 2000 standard – all four Hawkeye’s are operated by the 111th Squadron based at Tengah.
Egypt was the next customer for the Hawkeye when they took delivery of five Group 0 aircraft in 1986, followed by one other Group 2 aircraft in 1993 - all the aircraft are operated by the 222 Fighter Regiment located at Almaza/Cairo West airbase. The six aircraft are in the process of being upgraded to Hawkeye 2000 standard, with the final aircraft being returned to Egypt in Apr 2007.
RoCAF Hawkeye 2000
In 1995 Taiwan took delivery of four new built E-2C Group 2 aircraft which are operated by 78 Squadron based at Pingtung North. Two further Hawkeye 2000’s were delivered between 2004-5. All four of the Group 2 aircraft will be upgraded to Hawkeye 2000 standard between 2006-7.
French Navy E-2C
Given the general French distaste for all things American, perhaps the most surprising customer for the Hawkeye was the French Navy. The simple fact was that the French government were not about to risk the huge expenditure and immense technical difficulties involved in attempting to build their own carrier based AEW aircraft and opted instead to grit their teeth and by American – something they have repeated with the E-3F Sentry. The first two French E-2C’s, built to Group 2 standard, were delivered in Dec 1998 and Apr 1999 respectively. A third Hawkeye 2000 standard aircraft was delivered in 2004. Plans are underway to upgrade the two Group 2 aircraft to Hawkeye 2000 standard and a fourth E-2C Hawkeye 2000 has also been ordered. All the aircraft are operated by 4 Flottille from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and when not at sea are based at Lann-Bihoue.
Model of a UAEAF Grumman E-2A
The next country likely to operate the Hawkeye will probably be the United Arab Emirates Air Force. They are currently negotiating to buy five former US Navy E-2Cs that are currently in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Base in Arizona. The aircraft will be refurbished to Hawkeye 2000 standard and may also be fitted with in-flight refuelling probes. If the order goes ahead, subject to some concerns about technology transfer, deliveries would take place between 2006 and 2008.
India, Pakistan and Malaysia have also examined the possibility of operating E-2C Hawkeye’s. However, instead India has ordered the Phalcon system fitted to a number of IL-76 Candid aircraft, Pakistan has ordered an unspecified number of SAAB 2000 aircraft fitted with the Eyrie radar and Malaysia appear likely to opt for the Phalcon system fitted onto a number of Gulfstream V aircraft or a number of Embraer EMB-145 AEW&C aircraft.
The RN are currently studying various AEW&C options, to replace their Sea King ASaC.7 helicopters, under the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) programme, hopefully to operate from the highly controversial two large carriers planned to replace the three Invincible class carriers. Much as the RN would love to operate the E-2D from these carriers, it’s very unlikely they will be fitted with catapults or arrestor wires, making the operation of fixed wing AEW aircraft impossible. Allowing the RN to operate the latest standard of Hawkeye, with the increased ease of intra-operability with US forces that would bring, from the decks of the new carriers would make considerable sense. However, desirable military requirements rarely emerge victorious in a battle with the Treasury ‘bean-counters’ and even if the two carriers are built, which is by no means certain, I expect they will end up operating Merlin ASaC helicopters alongside Joint Strike Fighters.
Back in the late 1960’s, when the E-2A was suffering all its development and reliability problems, few would have imagined how developed versions of this aircraft have gone on to prove themselves in a wide variety of roles and have become an indispensable asset to US and other forces worldwide. From being simply an AEW aircraft the Hawkeye has, following its various upgrades, evolved into an aircraft that can perform the Airborne Battlespace Management (ABM) mission, utilising its highly advanced radar and communications systems. Put simply, wherever the Hawkeye operates, it becomes probably the most essential node in a network-centric operations, linking aircraft, ships and command centres, ensuring that information on potential threats is quickly distributed, whilst at the same time controlling air assets and even UAVs.
The capabilities of the Hawkeye were extended yet again in 2003, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. In this theatre Hawkeye’s from the USS Enterprise, operating from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, performed the Airborne Battlefield Command, Control and Communications (ABCCC) role in support of ground forces, enabling communications to be maintained in the mountainous terrain, allocating aircraft and helicopters into the battlespace as well as co-coordinating requirements from Forward Air Controllers. In summary, the E-2 Hawkeye has become a combination of a smaller version of a combined E-3 and J-STARS, a capability few would ever have imagined possible and versions of this remarkable aircraft will be around for many years to come.
The Grumman F-9 Cougar was the US Navy’s first swept wing carrier based fighter and was a swept wing version of the Grumman F9F Panther. On 2 Mar 1951 the initial contract was signed for the conversion of three F9F-5 airframes. The converted aircraft retained the fuselage, vertical tail, engine and landing gear of the Panther, but were fitted with new wings and tail surfaces swept to 35 degrees. After some rather unusual handling characteristics were resolved, it was found that the performance of the swept wing aircraft showed a marked improvement with the critical mach number increasing from 0.79 to 0.86 at sea level and 8.95 st 35,000ft. The first 30 aircraft were fitted with theJ-48-P-6A engine and all remaining aircraft received the J48-P-8 engine developing 7,250 lbs of thrust. Armament consisted of four internal 20mm M3 cannons together with two underwing ranks which could carry two 150 gal drop tanks or 3,000lbs of bombs. The first Cougar was delivered in November 1952, but was too late to see service in Korea, and the last of 646 aircraft was delivered in July 1954.
In common with many other fighter aircraft of this period, it was decided to build a number of Cougars adapted for tactical reconnaissance duties. A total of 110 aircraft were built with a lengthened nose and the four cannons were removed to make way for a vertical and oblique camera installation. These aircraft, designated the Cougar F9F-6P, were all delivered between August 1955 and July 1957 and saw service in dedicated reconnaissance squadrons on various carriers alongside the F9F-6 Cougars. However, rapid advances in technology soon saw the F9F-6P Cougars made obsolete by the Vought F9U-1P Crusader and the F9F-6P began to be phased out of the carrier based reconnaissance squadrons in February 1960 - a very short period of front-line service, even for this particular era. In 1962 the remaining aircraft were re-designated the RF-9J and remained in service with reserve units until the mid-1960s. The F9F-6 Cougar was gradually replaced by the Grumman Tiger in the fighter role and the Douglas Skyhawk in the attack role, but although some aircraft soldiered on for a while as drones, the end was inevitable and the final aircraft was retired in Feb 1974.
Originally designed in the late 1950’s for Forward Air Control (FAC) and later produced as a dedicated reconnaissance platform, both types served at various locations with the US Army in Europe. The original version was the RV-1C Quick Look 1 and the EV-1 which was developed in 1974. The OV-1D was equipped with a Motorola APS-94F SLAR giving it a slant range of over 60 miles; the radar picture could be datalinked to a ground station – an improved SLAR was later installed called E_SCAN.
Crewed by a pilot and systems operator, the RV-1D equipped for ELINT with pods under each wing and the ‘Quick Look II’ – used to identify, classify and locate Warsaw Pact radars. These aircraft were fitted with an AN/ALQ-133 radar detection system built by United Technologies of Texas and were again connected to ground stations by a data link. The aircraft were stationed at Wiesbaden.
Two OV-1D aircraft supplied to Israel. There is an unconfirmed rumour that two EV-1E aircraft were also supplied – these aircraft are dedicated ELINT platforms. In mid-1983 and number of OV-1Ds were refurbished, equipped with new cameras, IRLS and SLAR and were then supplied to Pakistan for surveillance duties along their border with India.
The Indian Air Force operates a single Gulfstream III SRA , registered as VT-ENR, for ELINT duties. The aircraft is usually based at Palam Air Force Station and is targeted almost exclusively against Pakistan.
A regular visitor to the site sent me the following photos and asked if I knew which country operated this mysterious Gulfstream III. The aircraft is devoid of national markings (probably digitally removed) and is fitted with what appears to be a LOROP camera pointing out of a window in the front part of the starboard fuselage and possibly other cameras looking out of the bottom of the fuselage.
Photorecce Gulfstream IIIPhotorecce Gulfstream III
Photorecce Gulfstream IIIPhotorecce Gulfstream III
Indian Gulfstream III K2961
I suspect that the aircraft is actually operated by India, as they operate at least one other Gulfstream III for ELINT operations painted in a very similar colour scheme, so using another for photo reconnaissance makes sense. However, there are a number of other possibilities and I am keen to hear from anyone who can positively identify who operates this unique reconnaissance aircraft.
Swedish SIGINT DC-3
Although by tradition a nuteral country, throughout the Cold War and into the present day, Sweden has nevertheless maintained a significant SIGINT capability. Strategically positioned in the Baltic, Sweden's intellignce agencies and armed forces have maintained close links with Western forces and share intelligence with NATO and the USA. The dangers of engaging in SIGINT activity in the Baltic was highlighted on 13 June 1952 when a Swedish DC-3 serial number 79001 was shot down by Soviet fighters with the loss of the eight man crew. Three days later a Swedish TP47 Catalina serial number 47002 engaged on a SAR mission looking for the missing DC-3, was shot down by Soviet MiG-15 aircraft over international waters, although luckily the crew managed to survive.
Swedish Tp 82 Varsity
Despite these losses, Sweden mantained a SIGINT capability by acquiring a TP82 Vickers Varsity, serial number 82001 (ex RAF WJ900) in 1953 and two TP52 Canberra B2s in 1960, serial numbers 52001 and 52002 (ex RAF WH711 and WH905).
Swedish Tp 85 Caravelle
In 1971 Sweden purchased two ex SAS Sud Aviation SE 210 Caravelles for SIGINT duties. Fitted with a long ‘canoe’ faring under the forward fuselage housing various SIGINT receivers, these two aircraft known as the TP85 were given the serial numbers 85172 and 85210 and patrolled the cold waters of the Baltic for over 25 years, trawlling for intelligence from within the old Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. Although these two venerable aircraft performed well, as the years passed and the aircraft was gradually retired from civil airlines, they became increasingly expensive to operate, particularly as spare parts became more difficult to obtain.
In 1995 to replace these two obsolete aircraft Sweden selected the well known Gulfstream IV business jet and two aircraft, Serial No’s 102002 ‘002’ and 102003 ‘003’, were converted for SIGINT duties. These two aircraft are operated by the SIS-Division of F16M at Maalmslatt which re-locatedto Uppsala early in 2002. In Swedish service the aircraft are known as the S 102B Korpen (Raven) and the 2 aircraft are individually named Hugin and Munin after Odin's pair of intelligence gathering Ravens. The Gulfstream's offer much improved mission flexibility over the old Swedish Gulfstream IV S 102B Korpen 'Hugin' Caravelles, particularly in terms of endurance and operating height. In support of NATO peace keeping operations these aircraft have also operated in the Adriatic area, the first time they are known to have been deployed outside Sweden. The aircraft can easily be identified by the long ‘canoe’ faring under the forward fuselage and the various SIGINT aerials underneath the wings and rear fuselage.
Updated 29 Dec 06
Eight versions of the Gulfstream II and IV variants are currently in service with the USAF, Army and Marine Corps with the general designation of C-20. However, one version of the Gulfstream IV that is rarely seen is the USAF C-20C, which isn't listed in anywhere and is part of a classified programme. Three C-20C aircraft (85-0050 c/n 456, 85-0049 c/n 473 and 86-0403 c/n 473) are based at Andrews AFB in Maryland and are operated by the Presidential Airlift Group (PAG) of the 89th Airlift Wing. The C-20C aircraft are part of a secret programme known as COOP (Continuity Of government Operations Programme) and are used to transport the President and other VVIPs in the event of a national emergency. The three C-20C aircraft are equipped with a comprehensive communication system installed by E-Systems and designed to enable operations in a post-nuclear environment. As part of this rol, whenever the US President or another VVIP travels anywhere in Air Force One, a C-20C is usually positioned discretely at an adjacent airfield, just in case the President or VVIP has to suddenly depart in a hurry and Air Force One has been disabled.
However, Gulfstream Aerospace, now owned by General Dynamics, hasn’t been sitting on it’s laurels and have been busy pitching new versions of their celebrated business jets for a variety of military programmes.
G450 – As part of their effort to secure the contract to develop the US Army’s Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) ISR system, one of the competitors, Northrop Grumman, has selected Gulfstream as a partner, using the Gulfstream G450. Northrop Grumman have already been given the G450 (IV-SP) version they’re proposing for the ACS contract the unofficial designation RC-20. The ACS will replace both the RC-7 ARL and the RC-12 Guardrail reconnaissance systems and is scheduled to become operational in 2009, with a total of 35 aircraft eventually fielded by 2017.
G500 – Gulfstream are offering air forces a version of the G500 long-range business jet, designated the EC-37SM, as an economic off-the-shelf ELINT and Special Mission solution. Offering the capability of providing ELINT, targeting and other special missions currently fulfilled by large airliner platforms. Some concepts show the aircraft with either 2 or 4 under-wing pods and a large canoe-shaped equipment pod underneath the forward fuselage. As well as ELINT payloads, the aircraft could carry a radar in the canoe, similar to the UK’s ASTOR, providing an AEW and SAR/GMTI capability, as well as an EO/IR surveillance pod. A stand-off electronic attack version would be equipped with EW pods, towed decoys and SIGINT equipment.
G550 UAV – Although the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV would appear to have the inside track, in its attempt to win the US Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) requirement, Gulfstream have decided to enter the fray with an unmanned version of the G550 business jet. BAMS is intended to provide the USN with an unmanned adjunct to the follow-on Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft replacement for the P-3C Orion. Designated the RQ-37, the vehicle would offer between 3 and 4 times the payload of the Global Hawk, over 15 hours endurance and the redundancy of twin engines. However, apart for considerably less endurance, the biggest drawback of the RQ-37 proposal is cost – the Global Hawk should come in around $24-25 million whilst a basic, unequipped G5000 sells for around $35 million. Although the ‘off-the-shelf’ RQ-37 solution certainly has possibilities, given the cost and proven success of the Global Hawk, I would be very surprised if this programme ever gets off the ground.
IAF SIGINT 707 137 - Bob Archer Collection
Since Oct 73 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has operated a number of Boeing 707 aircraft based at Lod Airport as 120 Sqn. The aircraft operated by the IAF were all initially operated by El Al, the state airline and were initially acquired to provide an air transport capability; however, it soon became obvious that the 707 was an ideal platform for a whole variety of additional roles. By 1976 a number of 707’s had been equipped to operate as Command, Control & Communications (C³) airborne command posts, but to make the most effective use of the aircraft they also included a basic SIGINT and ECM capability. In 1976 E Systems of Greenville, Texas converted four IAF 707s into dedicated SIGINT aircraft, two aircraft were fitted with equipment similar to the USAF RC-135U Combat Sent and the other two were fitted with a similar capability to the RC-135W Rivet Joint. Since then the IAF have modified a number of other 707’s to undertake the SIGINT role, but the IAF are very reluctant to release any information or official photographs of their SIGINT 707’s. However, the possible existence of an IAF AEW 707 is even less clear.
Phalcon in Chile
In 1976, to meet the IAF’s AEW needs, four AEW Grumman E-3C’s were ordered and although these aircraft performed well, they were optimised for an ‘over-sea’ role and despite many modifications they were expensive to operate and never quite met the IAF’s and in 1996 they withdrew their Hawkeye’s from active service. The IAF’s apparent lack of an effective AEW aircraft since 1996 is something of a mystery, particularly as back in 1994 IAI delivered one Boeing 707 equipped with the Phalcon system to Chile, demonstrating that they had the capability for this complex undertaking. Although it has never been officially confirmed that the IAF have a Phalcon equipped 707 and despite the lack of photographs, it would be very odd for them not to have at least one or possible two aircraft fitted with the Phalcon system, if only for ‘development’ purposes – time will tell.
However, the IAF’s Boeing 707’s are now approaching the end of their useful lives and like all aging aircraft are becoming increasingly expensive to operate and maintain. On 1 Dec 2001, to replace their Boeing 707’s, the IAF ordered four Gulfstream G550 and once delivered to Israel the aircraft will then be fitted with specialised equipment by IAI.. In IAF service the G550 will be known as Nachshon (Pioneer) and the first bare airframe is scheduled to arrive in Israel by the end of 2004.
G550 Compact Phalcon - IDV via Shlomo Aloni & AFM
IAI Elta division will install a compact version of the Phalcon AEW&C system on 3 ac of the 4 aircraft. This ‘compact Phalcon’ system, believed to be known as the IAI Elta EL/W-2085, is derived from both the full-scale Phalcon system and the Green Pine fire control radar developed for the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile system and will consist of four phased array radar antennas, giving 360º degree coverage. Inside the fuselage at the rear of the aircraft will be six operator stations. The aircraft will also be quipped with ESM antennas ahead of the cockpit, in small wingtip pods and under rear Phalcon radome. A SATCOM antenna will be inside a fairing on top of the tail enabling a near real-time data link to command headquarters.
G550 SIGINT - IDV via Shlomo Aloni & AFM
However the first G550 to arrive in Israel will be converted by IAI into a specialised SIGINT aircraft and fitted with the IAI EltaEL/1-3001 system. It may see unusual that only one G550 aircraft is being equipped for SIGINT duties, however, Israel also operates a number of Raytheon RC-12 aircraft, as well as a number of UAV’s and tethered aerostats, in the SIGINT role and so they probably simply want to give themselves another option if long-range activities are required as the basic G550 can reach 51,000ft and has a range 6750nm at 0.8 Mach. All of the G550 Nachshon aircraft will operate out of Nevatim air base in the Negev, perhaps by a re-located 120 Sqn. Israel retains the options for two further G550 aircraft and, provided the IAI equipment performs as expected, I imagine this option will be taken up at some stage in the future. In total the entire deal could be worth up to $473 million.
The first IAF G550 Nachshon in Israel - IDV via Shlomo Aloni & AFM
The market for an AEW / SIGINT aircraft smaller than the costly Boeing 707/767 is growing all the time as more and more countries realise that the capability of their other expensive air assets are severely limited without the intelligence such aircraft can provide. Gulfstream and IAI are keen to develop a compact AEW system and a SIGINT option for the G550, ensuring they can then compete alongside the SAAB 2000 AEW or Embraer EMB-145 AEW in the emerging markets of South America and the Pacific Rim, as well as in the Middle East where Saudia Arabia are already looking to replace their large Boeing E-3A aircraft with something much smaller and more economic. If the G550 performs as anticipated, I would imagine many more specially equipped G550s will be appearing in various air forces over the next decade.
In March 1958 two newly delivered Victor’s, XA924 and XA925, arrived at RAF Gaydon in Warwickshire. The two aircraft were fitted with the ‘Yellow Aster’ radar at Radlett before being deployed to RAF Wyton, where they were attached to 543 Sqn as the ‘Radar Reconnaissance Flight’.
The Victor took over the Strategic Reconnaissance (SR) role from the Valiant B(PR) 1 when it was withdrawn from service due to fatigue problems. The Victor carried a fan of eight F96 36in or 48in focal length camera plus an F96 6in camera. The film magazines of the F96 cameras were capable of carrying 1260 exposures.
From May 1965 until its disbandment in May 1974, 543 Sqn based at RAF Wyton was equipped with 6 Victor B.2(SR) aircraft dedicated completely to the Strategic Reconnaissance (SR) role. However, this activity was usually conducted over the sea and was later redefined as Maritime Radar Reconnaissance(MRR).
The aircraft were often fitted with air filters carried under the wing to detect radioactive particles in the Upper Air.
The Pembroke was developed from the civil Prince feeder-liner and saw service with the RAF as a general communications aircraft up until 1988.
To complete survey tasks in the Far East, 6 Pembrokes were equipped with sideways and oblique cameras and operated with 81, 209 and 267 Squadrons.
The Hawker Hunter was Britain's most successful post-war jet aircraft and arguably the most graceful jet fighter ever designed. But like most jet aircraft of that era, the Hunter beginnings were beset with problems. The Hunter was originally designed as a replacement for the Gloster Meteor, initial design work began in 1948 and the prototype, known then as the P1067, first flew on 20 Jul 51 in the hands of Hawker's Chief Test Pilot, Neville Duke. The engines for the first production run were split between The Rolls Royce AJ.55 Avon and Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire, just in case development problems occurred with the AJ.55.
The Hunter F1 entered RAF service as a day interceptor with 43 Sqn in Jul 54. Further development work continued and the Hunter F2, F3 and F4 followed on rapidly to improve the early aircraft's poor endurance and limited weapons. The Hunter F4, which first entered service in 1955, was probably the first really effective Hunter, and with increased fuel capacity and the ability to carry underwing stores, this aircraft was immediately popular with pilots. The Sapphire powered F5 was rapidly followed by the F6 with a much more powerful Avon engine. By then, with the Lightning on the horizon, the days of the Hunter being a really effective interceptor were numbered and development concentrated on developing the Hunter's ground attack capability.
Hunter FR Mk4
Hawker quickly realised the potential of the Hunter in the Fighter Reconnaissance role and decided to test the concept. Hawker modified a company trials Hunter Mk4 by installing five cameras in the nose purely for use as a test aircraft. Four of the cameras looked obliquely and the fifth looked forward through the tip of the nose and was protected by shutters. Although the RAF was already considering the Swift FR5, it immediately realised that the Hunter would be a better long-term bet and began to outline a new FR specification. Air Ministry Specification FR.164D was issued to Hawker in 1957 and outlined the development of the Hunter F6 into a reconnaissance fighter. The FR-10 incorporated the tail parachute and 230 drop tank capability of the FGA9 Hunter, a UHF radio, a sub-miniature radio compass, a Wirek voice recorder and three nose cameras. Using the 230 gallon tanks the FR-10 achieved a LO-LO radius of 240nm and a HI-LO-HI radius of 570nm.
Hunter FR-10 of 54 Sqn
A total of 33 FR-10 aircraft were built and deliveries started in Sep 60. The aircraft equipped 2 and 4 squadrons, based at RAF Gutersloh in Germany and four or five aircraft were also assigned to 1417 Flight based in Aden. Several other Hunter squadrons were issued with one or two FR-10's to give them a photo-reconnaissance capability. The aircraft remained in service until 1971/72 when they were phased out of RAF service with the introduction of the F-4 Phantom. The RN also operated four Hunter PR-11s, these were Mk 11 Hunters equipped with an FR10 cameras nose, but these aircraft were not used for operational duties and were flown by FRADU to help work-up ships crews before operational deployments.
The Hunter FR-10 is considered by many to be the best fighter-reconnaissance aircraft ever built. It was a 'gentleman's aircraft', a delight to fly, had no unpleasant 'vices', with plenty of performance and was easy to maintain. However, like most aircraft of that era, it lacked decent avionics, internal fuel capacity and was only really effective in clear weather. Nevertheless, the Hunter FR-10 era at Gutersloh was a legendary time and many visiting aircrew, who wandered downstairs in the Officers' Mess on Fridays evenings to be greeted by a flooded Keller Bar and Hunter pilots paddling around in survival dinghy's, or who were pursuaded to stand underneath the 'bending beam' in Gorings Room, must have wondered what on earth was going on.
RhAF Hawker Hunter FGA9 - fighter recce
A little known aspect of Hawker Hunter operations is the ingenious adaptation of a number of Hunter FGA9 aircraft by the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF) to undertake fighter reconnaissance missions during the countries bloody struggle with nationalist guerrillas in the early 1970’s.
RhAF Hunter FGA9
The RRAF had forged strong links with the RAF during WW2 and this close relationship continued through into the 1960’s when the RRAF was looking to replace their DH Vampire fighters. In Jan 1960 a goodwill visit to Rhodesia was made by a detachment from 8 Sqn of the RAF, who had recently been re-equipped with the Hunter FGA9. The visit made a significant impression on various politicians and the RRAF and only three months later it was formally announced that it had ordered 12 Hunter F6 aircraft, refurbished to FGA9 standard. The first RRAF Hunter arrived on 20 Dec 60 and by 15 May 63 the final aircraft was delivered to 1 Sqn at RRAF Thornhill, near Gwelo in the Central Highlands, bringing the squadron up to its full strength of 12 aircraft.
The Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence on 11 Nov 65, together with the subsequent embargo on logistical back up from the UK, caused immediate engineering support problems. After UDI the RRAF was renamed the Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF). The fact that the RhAF were able to keep most of the aircraft flying right to the cessation of hostilities, despite the sanctions, speaks volumes for the clever ingenuity and improvisation employed by the engineering staff of 1 Sqn RhAF.
RhAF Hunter FGA9 with the drop tank camera pod
Although the RhAF’s main reconnaissance asset was provided by a number of English Electric Canberras, in early 1966 a staff officer at the RhAF HQ, Sqn Ldr Don Brenchley, began an initiative to give the Hunters a reconnaissance capability. Engineers at 1 Sqn modified the front end of a 100-gallon fuel tank into a camera pod by installing three F95 cameras. One camera faced forward and the other two were obliques, giving an overlapping view to port and starboard, as well as vertically under the aircraft. The camera controls were fairly basic, enabling the pilot to operate the forward camera separately as the aircraft approached the target, followed by the verticals as the aircraft passed over the target. Although this modification was fairly rudimentary, it worked well and the drop tank camera pod proved capable of providing clear overlapping photographs from low passes at 200ft and 400+ kts. For reconnaissance sorties the 100-gal drop tank camera pod was always carried on the port outer pylon, with a normal 100-gal tank on the starboard pylon and 200-gal tanks on both the inner pylons. Hunter reconnaissance sorties were usually flown from RhAF New Sarum, near Salisbury as that station had a better equipped photographic section than Thornhill.
RhAF Hunter FGA9s at Thornhill
The drop tank camera pod was used successfully on many sorties throughout the ‘Bush War’ and the Hunters gave sterling service to the RhAF. Of the 12 original Hunters, one was lost to a technical defect and two were lost to ground fire. Only one Hunter pilot was lost during the ‘Bush War’ - Air Lt B K Gordon died when he was shot down on 3 Oct 79 whilst attacking a Frelimo Column near Chimoio in Mozambique. After the end of the ‘Bush War’ and the creation of Zimbabwe, the Hunters remained at Thornhill as part of the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ). However, in the early hours of 25 Jul 82, five of the surviving Hunters were destroyed in a series of explosions, committed either by dissident white AFZ personnel, or by South African Special Forces, depending on who you choose to believe. However, I imagine that many of the ex-RhAF personnel who had struggled so hard for throughout the long, difficult years of the ‘Bush War’ to keep those Hunters flying, would have much preferred to see them destroyed in a final, fiery ‘Gotterdammerung’, than survive to support the new regime headed by ex-guerrillas. The destroyed Hunters were replaced by other FGA9s delivered from Britain and Kenya between 1981-7, but the exodus of many white engineers made it increasingly difficult for the Hunters to be kept serviceable. One or two Hunters struggled on and eventually the last aircraft were finally retired in Jan 2002.
In addition to using a wide variety of converted bombers and transports for SIGINT duties, in the mid 1960’s Russia developed the Il-8 airliner into a dedicated reconnaissance platform the Il-20M – which was given the NATO designation Coot-A.
The Coot-A was designed from the outset to acquire all types of reconnaissance information, ELINT, COMINT, Optical and Radar intelligence. Mounted under the forward fuselage in a 26ft long pod is the Igla-1 (Needle-1) SLAR. Two A-87P panoramic cameras are mounted in the forward part of the lateral fairings on the front fuselage – the rear part of the fairings contain antennas for the Romb ELINT system. The Kavadrat ELINT system is served by a series of large and small antennas under the rear fuselage. This system is capable of emitter location, radio frequency and power measurement as well as determining pulse duration and transmission cycles. The COMINT suite is known as Vishnya (Cherry tree) and is manned by 8 operators. The flight deck crew usually comprises 5.
Around 20 Il-20M’s were built between 1969-1976 and were deployed around the periphery of the Soviet Union and East Germany. The current status of the aircraft is uncertain, but it is believed that the remaining aircraft are based at Chkalovskaya air base near Moscow.
At the end of WW2 the victorious allies completed with each other in a mad scramble to grab as many German scientists and engineers as possible, in recognition of the many advanced scientific and engineering concepts they had developed during the war. The German aerospace scientists and engineers were a specific target as these men, despite shortages of many essential materials, had created jet propelled aircraft, cruise missiles and rockets well in advance of those fielded by the Allies. It was obvious to anyone closely involved in military aviation that the performance and potential of jet powered aircraft was the future and so in America, Great Britain and Russia, aircraft designers and engineers studied any captured German aviation designs with particular interest.
Throughout WW2 Russian aircraft designers had lagged some way behind those in the West and although the aircraft the developed were rugged and effective, they were also quite primitive, particularly in engine technology and avionics. The Russians recognised their own limitations and began to address them by reverse engineering a number of Boeing B-29s that had crash-landed in eastern Russia into the Tupolev Tu-4 Bull. However, developing a new jet bomber was a different proposition and in 1945 Stalin directed that the three main design bureaus, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Ilyushin study the problem and eventually submit designs. The Sukhoi and Tupolev designs showed little promise and the Ilyushin Il-22 submission, essentially a scaled up version of the German Arado bomber, was little better. The main problem all the design bureaus encountered was the poor performance of the available Russian jet engines, but this problem was about to be solved by one of the most stupid acts every carried out by a British government and the list to choose from is long.
Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle
Soviet engineers knew that Britain and America already had turbojet engines in service far in advance of anything they could develop and so they suggested that Russia approach Britain about the possibility of purchasing a number of Rolls-Royce Derwent and Nene turbojet engines. Stalin never imagined that the British would be stupid enough to sell such advanced technology to Russia, however, he completely under-estimated the capacity of some brainless individuals in the new Labour government to overlook Stalin’s savage internal policies, his annexation and suppression of Eastern Europe and the emerging communist habit of stealing and then copying western technology. Consequently, in an act of almost unbelievable folly, a number of Rolls-Royce Derwent and Nene turbojet engines were sold to Russia. The Nene was just what the Soviets were looking for and was quickly reverse engineered into the Klimov RD-45F engine, an uprated version of which would power the MiG-15 that gave the US and their Allies, including the British, a considerable shock in the skies over Korea.
Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle tail gunner
In 1947 the Ilyushin bureau returned to their Il-22 jet bomber design and with some comprehensive changes, including the replacement of the original four Lyulka TR-1 engines with two Klimov RD-45F engines, submitted the new design as the Il-28. The new design first flew on 8 Jul 48 and was a typical example of fairly crude, but effective Russian engineering. An order for full production was placed in Sep 49 – no less than three state factories would build the new bomber. In May 1950 the new bomber made its first appearance at the annual May Day parade and before long it acquired its new NATO reporting name – Beagle.
The Il-28 Beagle carried a crew of three, a pilot and navigator / bomb aimer sat in the forward compartment and the tail gunner / radio operator sat isolated in the rear compartment under the tail. Whilst the pilot and navigator were at equipped with upward-firing ejection seats, the tail gunner had to manually bail out through a hatch in the event he needed to abandon the aircraft – I imagine there were not many volunteers for duties as a Il-28 tail gunner, but conscription would see to that. For the time the Il-28 Beagle was equipped with a fairly sophisticated avionics suite, including a bomb aiming radar mounted in a bulge under the fuselage. Furthermore, the performance of the Il-28 Beagle was good and the aircraft could cruise at around 400kts, had a ceiling of over 40,000ft and a range of around 1,300 nms.
After Ilyushin had developed a two-pilot trainer version of the Il-28 Beagle, they turned their attention to developing a reconnaissance version known as the Il-28R which first flew on 19 Apr 50. The Il-28R was equipped with a camera suite in the bomb bay, together with mountings for am portside oblique camera in the rear fuselage. Various day or night cameras could be carried and for night photography 12 flares were also carried in the rear of the bomb bay. Fitting a larger fuselage fuel tank, which abutted into the rear of the bomb bay and by adding wingtip tanks, increased the range of the Il-28R. Although the rear tail gunner was retained, the right nose cannon was removed and replaced with camera controls – the bomb aiming radar was also removed. Production of the Il-28R was authorised in late 1951 and it soon entered VVS service. Another unusual version of the Il-28 was the ELINT IL-28RTR, this aircraft was built in small numbers and could be distinguished by a large antenna installed under the faired-over bomb bay. A number of ECM IL-28s were also built and these aircraft were designated the Il-28REB and carried jammers in wingtip pods.
Il-28 at Port Harcourt
The Il-28 was involved in numerous conflicts, but by the 1970s was easy prey to most fighters. One of the least well known conflicts in which the aircraft was involved occurred when four ex-Egyptian and two ex-Soviet examples were operated by a group of Egyptian and Czech mercenaries against the Biafrans during the civil war in Nigeria between 1967 – 1970. However, the aircraft performed poorly, one aircraft overran the runway at Port Harcourt, was damaged beyond effective repair and left in the undershoot to greet new arrivals. The other aircraft suffered from poor servicing and a lack of spares, playing little role in the war - hardly the Il-28 Beagles's finest hour.
Estimates for the total production of all versions of the IL-28 Beagle vary from 2,000 to 6,000. Several hundred were built under licence in China as the Hong H-5 where it remains in service. In addition, Russia exported the aircraft widely and it saw service with Algeria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Indonesia, North Vietnam, North Korea, Poland and Romania. Most air forces withdrew their ageing Il-28s in the 1980s, but some examples are still flying, a testament to the quality of the original design and the ruggedness of the components.
The Lockheed A-12 was designed in the late 1950s for the CIA as a follow-on to the U-2 under a programme codename ‘Oxcart’. The aircraft first flew from Groom Lake on 26 Apr 62 piloted by Lou Schalk. The aircraft was designed to directly overfly a target, as opposed to 'standing-off' a target and taking oblique photographs. A variety of different cameras could be carried in the 'Q' bay immediately behind the pilot. A variety of ECM packages were carried in the chine bays. The A-12 remains the fastest, highest flying plane ever built and achieved a speed of Mach 3.35 and a height of 95,000ft.
A-12 taxis at Area 51
The only overseas detachment undertaken by the A-12 was to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, an operation known as Black Shield which began in May 67. On 31 May 67 the first Black Shield mission was flown over North Vietnam and China. Seven further missions were flown between 19 Jun and 21 Aug 67. A further 14 missions were then flown between 31 Aug and 16 Dec 67. Most of these missions were flown between 80-85,000ft and around Mach 3-3.5 and despite the best efforts of the Chinese and North Vietnamese, not one aircraft was actually successfully engaged. However, one aircraft did return with a small scrap of shrapnel embedded in the lower right wing fillet area from an SA-2 missile. This was the only time either an A-12 or SR-71 ever received any damage from a missile during an operational sorties.
During the first 3 months of 1968 a further 4 Black Shield missions were flown over North Vietnam without incident. On 23 Jan 68 the USS Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans. An A-12 from Kadena flown by Frank Murray eventually found the Pueblo in Wonsan harbor during a sortie in which he photographed the whole of North Korea in just four passes. A second mission over North Korea was flown on 19 Feb 68 and a final sortie was mounted on 8 May 68.
However, the USAF was keen to get its own version of this outstanding aircraft and Lockheed obliged by building the SR-71, which was designed from the outset for oblique photography, making it ideal for flying along borders, peering deep inside denied territory. There was insufficient funding for both aircraft and after a certain amount of 'politics', the A-12 programme finally closed down in 1968 allowing the SR-71 to take over.
Performance Comparison between A-12 and SR-71:
A-12s lined up at Area 51
Initially designed in the mid 1950's as a civilian airliner, the Lockheed Electra was the first turboprop airliner when it entered service with American Airlines in 1957. However, two mysterious crashes, caused by a faulty engine mounting design, caused many potential buyers to lose confidence in the design and by the time the problem was resolved in 1961, many airlines had already decided to order jet aircraft instead. Eventually, a total of 170 Electra's were built and many were converted into freighter/passenger aircraft by fitting a strengthened floor and a large cargo door.
Argentinian Electra 0793
In the early 1980's the Argentine Navy purchased four L-188A Electras which they then converted into maritime patrol aircraft by installing an APS-705 radar in an underfuselage radome. One aircraft, serial 0793, was later converted by Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) into an ELINT platform and operated for a number of years carrying a wide variety of electronic sensors. The aircraft has subsequently been retired to the Museum of Navy Aviation at Bahia Blanca, Buenos Aries province.
The need for a effective airborne early warning system was recognised towards the end of WW2 when a number of US Navy Grumman Avenger torpedo-bombers were fitted with the AN/APS-20 radar. To increase the loiter time of the AEW system, after the war ended the US Navy fitted the same radar system into modified B-17 bombers, re-designated PB-1Ws, although being land-based limited their effectiveness for 'blue-water' operations. Although the PB-1W was effective, it was cramped and as a modified bomber was a compromise - what was needed was a larger aircraft with more space for equipment and personnel together with greater endurance.
To meet the US navy requirement Lockheed modified the design of their Model 1049 Super Constellation airliner by adding an APS-20 search radar in a ventral radome together with a APS-45 height-finding radar in a large radome mounted on top of the fuselage. Inside the cabin were 5 operators positions and the internal communications system included a television system which allowed each controller to read data written on a central camera monitored display board. The aircraft could act as a Combat Information Centre (CIC), talking directly to ships, shore bases and other aircraft. On long missions up to 32 crewmen were carried.
The aircraft entered service with the US Navy in early 1953 with the designation WV-2 and were immediately used to provide radar coverage over the eastern ocean approaches to the USA - an Atlantic barrier. Patrol flights were maintained 24 hours a day, seven days a week with initially four WV-2 aircraft always out over the ocean on 12 hour sorties, although the number of aircraft was later cut to two. However, in winter weather conditions operating out of US Naval Air Station Argentia in Newfoundland proved challenging to say the least. Atlantic Barrier operations ended in 1961 after the DEW line was extended across Greenland, although residual patrols to fill in a gap in the Greenland, Iceland, UK (GIUK) barrier continued until 1 Sep 1965. Pacific barrier operations began in Jan 1956 with patrols off the west coast of America and out of Midway Island towards Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands. The Pacific barrier patrols continued until 1965. Another US Navy version, designated the WV-2Q, operated in the ELINT role during the Vietnam War.
The capability of the WV-2 made a big impression on the USAF, who were beginning to finally address the lack of an effective AEW aircraft in their inventory, and in 1951 they finally ordered the aircraft. In USAF service the aircraft was designated the EC-121C Warning Star. In the Vietnam War a number of EC-121, nicknamed 'Big Eye' and 'College Eye', aircraft provided early warning of MiG activity. The USAF ELINT version of this aircraft, designated the EC-121M, also operated in the conflict in South East Asia.
The WV-2 / EC-121 Warning Star remained in service until 1978.
Two USN Fleet Air Reconnaissance Sqns are equipped with a total of 11 EP-3E Orion (Aries II), VQ-1 PR based at Whidbey Island, Washington State and VQ-2 JQ based at Rota in Spain. Both squadrons were originally equipped with the EP-3B, which replaced the EC-121 in 1969. The EP-3E (Aries II) is the latest version and entered service with each squadron between 1971-5 The original task of the EP-3E was to eavesdrop on Warsaw Pact navies, ‘fingerprinting’ their radar and communication suites. However, with the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the EP-3E’s now provide Fleet support tasks as well as having a strategic national security role.
Each aircraft is equipped with comprehensive array of direction finding, analysis and recording equipment. This equipment includes the ALQ-110 radar signals gathering system and ALD-8 radio direction finder, ALR-52 automatic frequency measuring receiver and an ALR-60 which records multiple radio communications. The normal crew of an EP-3E is 24 consisting of 7 officers and 17 enlisted personnel, comprising 3 pilots, a Navigator and a Flight Engineer the remaining 19 comprise the ELINT and COMINT teams and equipment support technicians.
In April 2001, over international waters, an EP-3E (Aries II) 156511 ‘PR-32’ of VQ-1 was involved in a collision with a Chinese Naval Air Arm J-8IID Finback fighter, resulting in severe damage to the EP-3E and the loss of the Finback, together with the pilot. The captain eventually managed to make an emergency landing at Lingshui Air Base on Hainan Island, where the aircraft was impounded and the crew imprisoned by the Chinese authorities. The crew were repatriated and eventually the partley disassembled aircraft was flown back to its base in the hold of a chartered An-124.
The US Navy, Australia and Norway are known to operate Orion P-3C’s with a SIGINT capability, in addition to employing the aircraft for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare.
The US Navy have operated two Special Projects Squadrons, VPU1 based at NAS Brunswick and VPU2 based at MCAS Kaneohe Bay, since the late 1960's. The current aircraft are P-3C Orions and their activities are usually disguised by 'hiding' them within regular P-3C squadrons.
P3C 'Reef Point' Orion
The VPU Orions are specially modified under a programme for a specific reconnaissance mission which undergoes frequent name changes. In the past the names for this programmes have included 'Storm Jib' and 'Reef Point' and it is believed that the current programme is known as 'Iron Clad'. The equipment carried by the 'Iron Clad' aircraft is believed to include highly classified communications systems, long-range cameras, a satellite uplink to allow the near real-time transmission of optical images together with a variety of sensors and intelligence gathering systems. The lack of obvious external antenna make the VPU aircraft difficult to identify, but the frequently visit, RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath in the UK and NAS Sigonella.
P3C 'Reef Point' Orion with underwing pod
The upgraded Australian aircraft are known as AP-3C’s. Given the endurance and capacity of the P-3C, it would be surprising if other nations equipped with this aircraft do not also exploit its presence over international waters for SIGINT or COMINT gathering.
The Lockheed Martin ES-3A Shadow was a development of the S-3B Viking, the US Navy’s carrier borne Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft, and formed part of all carrier air wings.
Powered like the S-3B by two TF-34-GE 2 engines, the ES-3A was a dedicated Electronic Surveillance (ESM) and SIGINT platform which replaced the EKA-3B ‘Electric Whale’. Externally the ES-3A could be easily distinguished from the S-3B by a prominent dorsal hump and a retractable radome.
Sixteen of these aircarft were split between 2 squadrons VQ-5 (‘Sea Shadows’) in the Pacific Fleet and VQ-6 (‘Ravens’) in the Atlantic Fleet. Detachments of two or three aircraft normally deployed with every carrier air group, providing ESM, SIGINT and OTH support for the CVBG.
However, in 1998 the US Navy realised that it could not afford to fund the upgrades need to keep the aircraft viable through to 2013. The two squadrons began retiring their aircraft to AMARC at Davis Monthan AFB Arizona in Jan 1999 and by May 1999 all the aircraft had been withdrawn from service.
During the Korean War the US Navy operated a number of specially equipped Lockheed P2V Neptune’s flying ELINT sorties against the Soviet Union and two aircraft were eventually lost on these operations. Later, in the Spring of 1952, a Navy P2V–3W made nine shallow overflights of the Siberian coast to determine what military activity was taking place in that area. When the Cold War became a reality the US Military began expanding their various roles to include intelligence gathering activities against the USSR. Not to be outdone, the CIA began manoeuvring to enhance and enlarge its own role in this activity and, when necessary, used its influence to have the latest military hardware modified to perform a specific Agency function.
By 1954 the CIA decided that it had the means to support its own world-wide airborne electronic gathering capability. A small team of CIA and USAF officers met with US Navy officials and made arrangements for the purchase of 7 new P2V-7 Neptune’s. The Neptune suited the CIA because it was a reliable, proven aircraft that met their mission requirements and could benefit from world-wide US Navy support facilities. It was also hoped that these 7 CIA Neptune’s could operate unnoticed in amongst the much large number of other US Navy Neptune’s spread throughout the globe. However, the CIA knew that it needed to establish a credible cover story to account for the loss of one of these aircraft on a clandestine mission. Unfortunately the US Navy, reluctant to bear the brunt of criticism should a CIA spy Neptune be lost with their markings, declined to allow the aircraft to operate under US Navy cover. Although the CIA attempted to identify another suitable aircraft, they eventually came to the conclusion that they would have to find another way to operate the Neptune, without US Navy colours.
RB69 airborne from right side
Using the code name ‘Project Cherry’, later ‘Project Wild Cherry’, in conditions of total secrecy, the 7 Neptune’s were hand built in Lockheed’s ‘Skunk Works’ facility. The aircraft were given standard production numbers and Navy Bureau Numbers but were officially accepted by the USAF. The 7 aircraft were given the Lockheed designation P2V-7U and were allocated USAF serial numbers 54-4037 to 4043. After much persuasion, the USAF Air Material Command eventually came up with a specific type designator for these 7 aircraft – RB-68A and they were delivered in overall Sea Blue, the standard US Navy livery for the type.
RB69 with Fulton
Because of a funding shortfall, various CIA departments had contributed funds towards the costs of the RB-68A project and each felt it had a right to have its specialised equipment on board the aircraft. Consequently, the aircraft soon outgrew it’s design load limits and the specialist equipment manufactures were required to redesign the systems to be detachable. This meant that no two aircraft were alike, but that they could be easily configured for a specific mission. The RB-69A was eventually fitted with a variety of unusual systems, one was a huge device which completely filled the bomb bay and could dispense tens of thousands of leaflets in rapid succession, another was a large wooden supply container which could sustain agents dropped from the same aircraft. As it was planned from the outset to parachute agents from the RB-69A, it was decided to investigate fitting the ‘Skyhook’ aerial retrieval system. The first ‘live’ pickup was accomplished in 1958 and at least one RB-69A was modified with the ‘Skyhook’ system. All the RB-69A’s were fitted with a highly sophisticated low-level photographic system using Fairchild cameras in conjunction with arc lights installed in wing-tip pods. A General Electric Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) was also installed in some RB-69A’s. One of the first terrain avoidance radar’s and a Doppler navigation system were other new technologies first tried on the RB-69A; all aircraft were also equipped with a variety of ECM jammers and sensors, some housed in the MAD boom at the rear. For ELINT missions a crew of 12 was carried, usually consisting of pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, radio operator and 8 ELINT system operators.
Once they came into service the RB-68A’s were all based at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. Flight tests and pilot training were conducted at a variety of units including Edwards AFB, Palmdale and Shaw AFB. Once the RB-69A’s became operational 5 were dispatched to Taiwan and 2 were sent to Wiesbaden in West Germany. From Wiesbaden the aircraft were used on leaflet drops along the borders of Warsaw Pact countries and for general ‘ferret’ mission where they would stir up the Soviet air defence radar’s and monitor their readiness and reaction. For operations near border areas Polish or Czechoslovakian speaking crews were often used. On occasions the RB-69A’s actually crossed the border into Warsaw Pact territory, to conduct ELINT sorties or photograph specific targets. After the Wiesbaden operation was compromised by an American officer, it was terminated in 1963.
RB69 from front
The RB-69A’s from Wiesbaden were transferred to Taiwan to join the other 5 already based there with the ROCAF 34th Sqn, 8th Group at Hsinchu Air Base. The ROCAF RB-69A’s normally flew with a crew of 14 and were painted sea blue, dulled to a dark grey, with gave the aircraft an overall ‘black’ appearance. Some aircraft were even fitted with 4 aft-facing Sidewinder air-to-air missiles on wing pylons to discourage any potential attacker, but they were never used.
As well as carrying out ELINT snooping and leaflet dropping, these aircraft routinely overflew mainland China, occasionally as far as Peiping and Kwangchow. Over 80 penetrations of Chinese airspace were conducted between 1958 and 1960, generally at night, sometimes dropping agents by parachute along with the wooden cargo container from the bomb bay. In an attempt to prevent the continual penetration of their airspace by the RB-69A’s, the Chinese devised one of the first rudimentary AWACS using the Tupelov Tu-4 ‘Bull’ rigged with an AI radar. The most successful system employed Iiyushin IL-28 ‘Beagles’ and Shinyang J-5s to drop flares to illuminate the low-flying RB-69A’s for Chinese MiG 17 fighters. However, two MiG 17PF night fighters were observed to fly into high ground whilst attempting to intercept RB-69A’s.
RB69 airborne front right
The first RB-69 was lost to anti-aircraft fire over Shantung Province on 6 November 1961. A second aircraft disappeared over China on 8 January 1962 in unknown circumstances. Another was shot down by Chinese MiG-17PF night fighters, with assistance from the Tu-4, near Nanchang on 14 Jun 1963. A MiG 17PF, aided by flare dropping IL-28’s, claimed another RB-69A near Yantai, Shantung Peninsula on 11 June 1964. Another aircraft was lost en-route to South Korea on 25 March 1960. The fate of the two surviving RB-69A’s is unknown and no examples of this unique aircraft are currently on display anywhere. One rumour is that all the surviving RB-69A’s were converted back to standard SP-2H Neptunes for the USN.
Neptune Very little has been released on the operational activity of the RB-69A’s; which given the widespread release of information on other reconnaissance aircraft is surprising. The CIA states it may neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of RB-69A records. That material is classified to conform to an ‘Executive Order in the interests of national defence or foreign policy”.
Under the ‘Big Safari’ programme of intelligence collection, Detachment 2 was established with E-Systems (now Raytheon) in 1957 to convert ten C-130A aircraft for SIGINT duties under the ‘Sun Valley’ project. These C-130s replaced the RB-50Es which in turn were modified as RB-50Gs and transferred to the Pacific. Later eleven C-130Bs were modified in the ‘Sun Valley II / Rivet Victor’ project and replaced these RB-50Gs completely by 1961.
The ‘Sun Valley’ C-130s often operated in conjunction with another combat aircraft in their intelligence gathering role. The combat aircraft would fly towards Chinese or Russian airspace to trigger their air defence organisation. As the air defence operators went into action, the C-130 would stand-off just out of range and collect data from the electronic emmissions. Later, analysts would piece together an order of battle for the air defence organisation and determine how best to disable it in wartime.
A number of C-130A-II and C-130B-II aircraft were used for SIGINT duties by 7406th Combat Support Squadron from Rhien-Main. C-130E-II aircraft took over the Wiesbaden to Berlin SIGINT task from the EC-97G Stratocruiser. A number of C-130E-II aircraft were operated by the 7407th Operations Squadron from Rhein-Main in Operation Creek Misty.
EC-130 Commando Solo
In 1978 a number of C-130 aircraft were equipped for the psychological warfare and stand-off jamming role under the ‘Rivet Rider’ project. The C-130E is equipped with a large dorsal fin and outsize blade aerials under the outer wing panels. These aircraft are operated by the 193rd Electronic Combat Squadron of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and saw action during the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. The equipment was updated in 1990 to allow the transmission of both radio and television in a format compatible with Middle Eastern broadcast systems. These aircraft were used extensively during ‘Desert Storm’ when the aircraft often sent psychological messages to Iraqi tank crews. The aircraft equipment has recently been transferred to new C-130J ‘Commando Solo’ airframes.
EC-130A Compass Call
In 1980 Lockheed were assigned the ‘Compass Call’ project. This involved the conversion of sixteen C-130 aircraft to enable them to intercept, locate and jam enemy communications. The aircraft are designated EC-130H and are designed primarily to jam communications. During ‘Desert Storm’ these aircraft intercepted communications from Iraqi lookouts who were attempting to report incoming air strikes and jammed them. They also performed deception and psychological missions, this included taunting Iraqi radio operators and harassing them with Heavy Metal music. Specially trained linguists are also carried on these aircraft and they can use the onboard equipment to pass false information to enemy aircraft or between units on the ground.
The US operate a variety of specially modified C-130 Hercules aircraft for various ISTAR tasks, two of these are the EC-130E Commando Solo and the EC-130E Senior Hunter. Because of the specialised nature of these aircraft they are frequently used on deployed operations, particularly since 9/11.
EC-130E Commando Solo
The EC-130E Commando Solo is a unique system which is used for psychological operations (PSYOPS) and evolved from the EC-121 Coronet Solo platform of the mid-1960s and the EC-130A. The EC-130E Commando Solo is equipped with various transmitters allowing it to broadcast in the AM, FM and HF bands as well as the colour TV VHF/UHF bands – it can also broadcast on military communications bands. The EC-130E can also Command & Control Communications Countermeasures (C3CM) and limited intelligence gathering missions.
EC-130E Commando Solo
Typically the EC-130E will operate alone and fly and orbit offset from the desired target and then ‘inject’ broadcasts into the target systems. If done smoothly, say during a natural break in transmissions, the broadcast will appear uninterrupted and the target audience will not even be aware that they are actually listening to or watching the EC-130E, rather than their genuine broadcaster. The EC-130E can either transmit pre-recorded tapes or carry trained linguists to broadcast live and the aircraft have been used in Southeast Asia in 1970, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, the Gulf War I in 1990-1 and Kosovo in 1999 during Operation Allied Force. In 1994, during exactly the kind of operation they were designed for, the EC-130E aircraft broadcasted radio and television messages to the population of Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy and helped the orderly transition from military rule to democracy. Only six EC-130E aircraft are in service and all are operated by the 193rd Special Operations Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard based at Harrisberg International Airport, Middletown, Pennsylvania.
EC-130E Senior Hunter - photo by Colin Johnson
Although not based alongside the EC-130E Commando Solo’s, four even more unusual Hercules aircraft frequently work in conjunction with the Commando Solo’s. The EC-130E Senior Hunter SIGINT aircraft are equipped with radio signal monitoring equipment known as the Senior Scout system. This pallet mounted system consists of the Airborne Collection Electronic Signals II (ACES II) capsule which accommodates between 4 – 12 system operators who monitor the 2-MHz to VHF (COMINT) or 2-18 GHz (ELINT) bands. The system collects data from external aerials fitted onto removable panels mounted on the undercarriage door and rear cargo compartment passenger door. Installation of the entire suite takes about 12 hours.
EC-130E Senior Hunter sensors - photo by Colin Johnson
The EC-130E Senior Hunter aircraft are used to gather electronic and communications intelligence to support the objectives of the USAF Electronic Security Command. Two EC-130E Senior Hunter aircraft are also operated by the 118th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard based at Nashville International Airport and another two are operated by the 317th Airlift Group at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.
Another EC-130J ready for converstion
However, the EC-130E Compass Call and other specially equipped EC-130s are 'high demand/low density aircraft who's use has increased considerably in recent years and as a result they are rapidly coming towards the end of the service life and will need to be replaced. On 9 Nov 04 Lockheed Martin announced that it had won a contract to modify another C-130J in preparation for its eventual conversion into a EC-130J Commando Solo – the contract also includes options for work on two further aircraft. The first EC-130J flew on 17 Nov 03 and has been already been delivered to the 193rd Special Operations Wing. Although the 193rd SOW will now operate a mix of EC-130E and EC-130J aircraft, it's only a matter of time before the other EC-130Es are replaced. Once this programme is complete there will be pressure to replace the remaining EC-130s with this new and more efficient version of the ubiquitous Hercules.
Italy aand Egypt also operate a number of EC-130s, although the aircraft are rarely seen on operations.
Scathe View C-130
Another little known variant of the ubiquitous Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the C-130H2 Scathe View, is operated by the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152 Airlift Wing based at Reno-Tahoe international airport. The 152 Airlift Wing operates eight of these unique aircraft that are designed to provide Combatant Commanders with reach-back communications and increased awareness of what is actually happening on the battlefield. The aircraft are fitted with an extensive communications fit, including SATCOM. In addition, they carry a FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) daylight TV system, a spotter scope and a laser rangerfinder. A particularly important capability carried by this aircraft is the ability to provide a video link to the US Air Force ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) that can provide near real-time sensor fed video footage to laptop based portable ground receivers.
The aircraft that recently visited Mildenhall (79-0474) is also fitted with FLIR sensors above and below the cockpit as well as a AN/AAQ-24(V) Nemesis DIRCM turrets on the rear fuselage.
The development of the jet engine towards the end of WW2 by the Germans, and the British and its subsequent use by the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor fighters, made piston powered fighter aircraft obsolete overnight. As part of the close ties between the UK and US, the British government gave the USA a number of Goblin jet engines. The first US jet aircraft to fly was the Bell XP-59A Airacomet, powered by a version of the Goblin built under licence by General Electric, but the XP-59A was produced in small numbers as an experimental aircraft and it never entered operational service.
The US government were determined to develop an operational jet fighter aircraft as quickly as possible and in 1943 awarded Lockheed a contract to design and build a jet fighter. Given Bell’s earlier work on the XP-59A this might have seemed an odd decision, but Bell were already heavily committed in other areas and it was felt that another company could give this project their undivided attention. As far back as 1939, Lockheed engineers Clarence R ‘Kelly’ Johnson and Hall L Hibbard had conducted research into jet powered aircraft that eventually culminated in a design known as the L-133. From 1942 Lockheed had attempted to interest the USAAF in the potential of the L-133, but with no success.
Lockheed L-1000 engine
A highly advanced design for the time, the L-133 was designed around a canard configuration. Power was provided by a pair of Lockheed L-1000 axial flow turbojet engines, designed by Lockheed's Nathan Price, that were years ahead of any other jet engine and could have powered the L-133 to speeds in excess of 600 mph. Unfortunately, the L-133 and the L-1000 engines were simply too far ahead of their time and failed to attract funding from the USAAF staff who simply couldn't really grasp the technology involved and the advantages it would bring. Had the USAAF been able to grasp the potential of these designs, the USA could have been been years ahead of any other country in the development of jet aircraft.
The formal Letter of Contract for Lockheed to build this new jet aircraft, now known as the XP-80, was issued on 16th October 1943 and one of the main requirements was for Lockheed to complete the first aircraft within 180 days of this date – a highly ambitious schedule. To achieve this demanding schedule, Kelly Johnson, assisted by William P Ralston and Don Palmer assembled a small team of engineers in a temporary building near the wind tunnel at Plant B-1 at Palmdale. Working in complete secrecy, ten hours a day – six days a week, the team were allowed to operate with the minimum of bureaucratic interference and paper work. This team and its methods of operation became the origin of the famous ‘Skunk Works’.
Delays in the delivery of the engines caused some delays but on 16th Nov 1943 the aircraft was formally accepted by the USAAF, with the aircraft being completed in just 143 days – a remarkable achievement. The XP-80 first flew on 8th January 1944 with Milo Burcham at the controls and, after some minor problems were resolved, the aircraft soon became the first USAAF aircraft to exceed 500mph in level flight and reached an altitude of over 20,000ft. The aircraft was transferred to the 412th Fighter Group for evaluation and then the AAF Training Command. Surprisingly, it survived all these trials and the aircraft is now owned by the Smithsonian Museum where ii is being restored for eventual display.
An initial production contract for two batches of 500 P-80A aircraft, now known as the Shooting Star, was signed on 4th Apr 1944, followed in June 1945 by a second contract for an additional 2,500 aircraft. However, the end of the war saw the second contract cancelled and the initial order cut back to 917 aircraft. The first aircraft was accepted by the USAAF in February 1945 and the last was delivered in December 1946. The P-80 was eventually re-named the F-80 and, armed with six 0.50-inch Browning machine guns in the nose and capable of carrying ten rockets or two 1,000lb bombs, it proved itself to be an effective jet fighter. In the Korean War an F-80 flown by Lt Russell Brown achieved the first jet v jet kill when he shot down a MiG-15 on 8 November 1950. However, although the F-80 was developed and improved throughout its service life and achieved a total of 3 kills against the MiG-15, it was apparent that the swept-wing MiG-15 outclassed the straight-wing F-80 and the aircraft were re-assigned to ground support mission, leaving the new North American F-84 to tackle the MiG-15s. Although the F-80 was retired from front-line service in the 1950s, it was exported to various countries around the globe and a two seat trainer version, known as the T-33A continued to serve with various countries well into the 21st century – a testament to the excellent design and the aircraft’s reliability.
The importance of tactical fighter reconnaissance had grown enormously during WW2 and it was obvious that the P-80 could be easily modified to carry out this role. One early airframe was modified by removing the guns and fitting an elongated nose which hinged upwards to house a set of cameras – this version was known as the XFP-80A and proved that the concept would work. A further 38 aircraft were then constructed as FP-80A-5-LO photographic reconnaissance aircraft, followed by a second batch of 13 aircraft.
All aircraft were powered by the 3850 lb.s.t General Electric J-33-GE-11 engine and were fitted with one K-17 camera and two K-22 split-vertical cameras. An additional batch of 66 production P-80A fighters were converted by Lockheed into reconnaissance aircraft and given the designation RF-80A-15-LO. The RF-80A proved itself in combat during the Korean War and took part in numerous sorties over North Korea as well as sorties along the border with North Korea and China, near the Yalu River.
Chinese airfield photographed by an RF-80A
Equipped with a forward –looking 40in focal length camera with a telescopic lens, the RF-80A photographed the various airfields in China where the MiG-15s were based, allowing accurate assessments to be made of the potential threat facing UN forces.
A number of RF-80A sorties were also flown over Eastern Russia and China by in the late 1940's and early 1950's by 1st Lt Bryce Poe II - click here to read an article on these sorites.
Designed by Kelly Johnson's Skunk Works team in the early 1950's as a day fighter, the original design of the F-104 Starfighter drew heavily on the experiences of American fighter pilots in Korea. Eventually some 2,221 examples were built in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan.
Straight-line performance was the over-riding criteria, consequently, the fighter that evolved was small in overall size, with very short, stubby wings and was eventually powered by a large J79 turbojet engine. The F-104 entered service with the USAF in 1958 and proved capable of Mach 2.2. However, it was always an unforgiving aircraft and, following a high attrition rate the USAF, it was decided to transfer the surviving aircraft to the Air National Guard in 1968 after only 10 years front-line service.
Italian Navy RF-104G
Amazingly, considering the aircraft's somewhat chequered career with the USAF, in 1959 Lockheed managed to sell a re-designed 'multi-role version of the aircraft, the F104G, to various European countries in what was termed the 'Sale of the Century'. Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands agreed terms for a joint production programme. Germany eventually acquired 750 aircraft and as these were retired from service they were acquired by Greece, Norway, Taiwan and Turkey. Italy built 246 F-104S for themselves and Turkey. Only Italy, Turkey and Taiwan continue to operate the F-104 in front line service.
Germany operated the RF-104 for both the Luftwaffe and Bundesmarine in the reconnaissance role carrying an internal reconnaissance package in the lower fuselage, ahead of the air intakes. The Royal Netherlands Air Force and the Italian Air Force also operated the RF-104G in the reconnaissance role carrying the 'Red Baron' recce pod.
There are dozens of websites just dedicated to this magnificent aeroplane, many with pages and pages of detail. Rather than repeat the detail on these sites, I shall simply attempt to condense the essential details of the aircraft's career into a few paragraphs.
The Lockheed SR-71 was a development of the Lockheed A-12 single seat spyplane designed to meet the USAF's requirement for a strategic reconnaissance aircraft to replace the U-2. First flown in Dec 1964, the major difference between the SR-71 and the A-12 was the addition of an RSO in the SR-71, which resulted in the SR-71 being longer than the A-12 by 1.55m. The SR-71 was also considerably heavier, carried a greater payload and more fuel.
All of the sensors carried by the SR-71 were housed in either the detachable nose or the chine bays. Four different types of nose were available containing either an Optical Bar Camera, a radar nose with either a Goodyear or Loral ground mapping radar, an Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASARS I) or an empty nose for training or ferry flights. The Operational Objective Cameras (OCCs) housed in the chines were made by Hycon, had a 13-inch focal length and used a 9x9 inch film format. These cameras were withdrawn from use in the early 1970s. The Technical Objective Cameras (TEOCs) were made by the Itek Corporation and initially had a 36-inch focal length which was later increased to 48 inches. Between 1978 and 1980 two aircraft carried 66 inch TEOCs developed by CAI, but little information has been released about these cameras.
In the chine bays the SR-71 carried a number of SIGINT recorders that captured the electronic signature of search radars and SAM systems encountered on sorties. Probably the most sensitive equipment carried in the chine bays was the Defensive Electronic (DEF) systems that were designed to jam or spoof any radar or SAM system as necessary. These systems were continually updated throughout the aircraft's life from the initial DEF A, right through to a programmable system known as DEF A2C. This technology is still in use on current USAF aircraft and consequently little information has ever been released about the DEF system.
The SR-71 was based at Beale AFB in California throughout its career and continually supported routine detachments to Kadena AFB in Okinawa and RAF Mildenhall in the UK. A grand total of 3551 operational sorties were flown by the SR-71 and none was ever shot down. Thirty-two SR-71's were eventually built and only 284 individuals formed the operational crews, all were American citizens.
In 1993 it was decided to retire the SR-71 - the reasons given for the premature retirement was the ability of satellites to carry out the mission and the increasing cost of maintaining the SR-71 fleet. Apart from the cost of maintaining the SR-71 fleet, another factor may have been that may have been taken into consideration was the knowledge that the aircraft had become vunerable. This had been demonstrated on 3 Jun 86 over the Barents Sea, when 6 MiG-31 Foxhounds performed a SR71 co-ordinated intercept against an SR-71 that would have subjected the aircraft to an all-angle AAM attack that even the high speed/altitude and ECM capability of the aircraft would have had great difficulty in defeating.
A number of aircraft were briefly retained by NASA for research, but this has now been completed and they are now grounded. All SR-71s have now been dispersed to various museums.
However, it is well known that the orbital characteristics of satellites do not give them the flexibility required for urgent reconnaissance tasks and their predictable tracks (available on the Internet) allow sensitive targets to be hidden from view. Ever wondered why none of the commercial photographic satellites have ever been able to photograph anything of interest at Area 51? Anyway, more on the topic of the replacement for the SR-71 can be found in the Future Reconnaissance Aircraft page.
Most people are familiar with stealth aircraft that are difficult to detect on radar due to their shape and general design. However, long before the F-117 stealth fighter took to the air, the US Army operated a completely different kind of stealth aircraft over the skies of Vietnam, one that relied on a lack of audible noise to remain undetected – the Lockheed YO-3A Quiet Star.
By the mid 1960’s the USA was becoming increasingly bogged down in the conflict in Vietnam. Despite their overwhelming firepower and complete superiority in every kind of weapons system, US forces were always having great difficulty in identifying the precise location of significant numbers of Vietcong to actually attack. The Vietcong were well aware that they simply could not complete in a conventional war against the might of the US forces, so they relied on hit and run tactics and then melted back into the thick, almost impenetrable jungle before heavy supporting weapons could be directed onto their location. A number of aircraft were used to try and identify the location of Vietcong formations, such as the O-1 Bird Dog, a military version of the Cessna 170, but these aircraft could easily be heard approaching Vietcong positions, giving them plenty of time to either disappear or get ready to direct weapons at the slow-flying aircraft. After a number of Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs were lost to ground fire, faster aircraft were used in this role, but this only tended to increase the level of audible warning and the greater speed made actually spotting the Vietcong even harder.
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) were aware of these problems and following a directive from their senior management they decided the answer was to build an aircraft so quiet that its noise was drowned out by background sounds. Lockheed’s first proposal to build a quiet aircraft involved converting a single-seat Schweizer I-26 glider airframe by adding an air-cooled VW engine linked through a speed reduction system to the propeller. However this proposal, known as the Quiet Thruster 1 (QT-1), was rejected in favour of a two-seat aircraft with a conventional aircraft engine.
Lockheed’s second proposal was to convert a two-seat Schweizer 2-32 glider, powered by a four cylinder 100 HP O-200-A Continental engine and was known as the Quiet Thruster 2 (QT-2). This proposal was accepted and DARPA awarded a $100K contract to Lockheed for them to covertly build and test two aircraft within six months. The QT-2 was equipped with a muffler to help silence the engine, a four-blade 100ft diameter wooden propeller connected to the engine through a 3:1 speed reduction system. Initial flight tests near the US Navy riverine warfare training centre in the Sacramento River delta, where the engine noise from the QT-2 was only just audible, were declared a success – but there was only one place where a really realistic test could take place – Vietnam. In Jan 1968, under Operation Prize Crew, both QT-2s were shipped to Bien Hoa, a Special Forces air base northeast of Saigon, for the next phase of the operational testing which proved even more realistic than anyone could have imagined. On 31 Jan 68 the Vietcong launched the Tet offensive and during the intense fighting the QT-2 operated successfully at night without alerting the Vietcong.
Based on the experience of Operation Prize Crew, Lockheed reconfigured the design of the QT-2 for the final production aircraft. Using a low mounted wing, a large one-piece cockpit canopy, an engine in the nose and a retractable undercarriage, the resulting aircraft resembled a more conventional propeller aircraft and was given the official designation YO-3A. The pilot sat in the rear of the cockpit with the observer in the front where he could operate the payload – an early night vision system. Mounted in a turret underneath the fuselage was a stabilized image-intensifier with a wide-angle objective lens linked to a viewing scope in the observer’s position. The re-design of the production YO-3A resulted in an aircraft almost double the weight of the QT-2. To cope with the extra weight a more powerful 210hp air-cooled 6-cylinder Continental IO-360D engine was installed, linked to a constant-speed three bladed propeller, which gave the aircraft a top speed of 138mph, with a cruising speed of 110mph down to its quietest speed of 70mph.
Lockheed YO-3A Quiet Star
However, although Operation Prize Crew was a clear success, by 1968 the continued US involvement in Vietnam had already begun to be seriously questioned by various politicians. Consequently, Lockheed were disappointed when in late 1968 the US Army announced a final production contract for only 14 aircraft. The YO-3As were quickly built and by the end of 1969 13 aircraft were shipped to Vietnam to equip the 73rd Surv Aircraft Company, 1st Aviation Brigade based at Long Binh, just northeast of Saigon. The remaining YO-3A was based at Fort Rucker, Alabama for advanced testing. Over the next couple of years the YO-3As flew around 1164 missions at night searching for the Vietcong – no planes were ever lost to enemy ground fire and, although shots were sometimes fired at the aircraft, no hits were ever recorded. The aircraft were withdrawn from Vietnam in Apr 1972 as part of the phased withdrawal and returned to the USA. A number were disposed of and today the best surviving example is in the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker.
NASA Lockheed YO-3A
The YO-3A was a unique spyplane, designed for a specific role in a particular theatre of war. It was a genuine stealth aircraft before the term was actually later invented for the F-117 Nighthawk. The YO-3A aircraft had only a fairly brief operational life, but nevertheless proved that the concept and design actually worked in practice. I have considerable admiration for the YO-3A crews, flying a single-engined aircraft at night at a fairly low height over dense jungle teeming with Vietcong takes skill, raw courage and considerable nerve. The aircraft must certainly have startled many Vietcong as they squatted in the jungle having their evening rice bowl, and I would love to have seen the expression on their faces as suddenly, with no audible warning, a YO-3A swept silently across the night sky.
The history of the Lockheed U-2 has been extensively covered on numerous websites, as shown in the Links, therefore it would be pointless to go over at length the history of this remarkable aircraft. Instead, I will simply cover some of the highlights of its history and concentrate on the Russia overflight programme – the time when the U-2 completed the mission it was originally designed to accomplish. The CIA funded U-2 programme was finally authorised in late 1954 and U-2’s continued operating with the Agency until 1974 when the remaining Agency U-2’s were transferred to USAF.
Early U-2 with black paint
On 29 Apr 56 CIA Detachment A deployed four aircraft to Lakenheath in England, a move completed by 4 May 56. On the 11th Jun 56, following the refusal of the British government to allow U-2 operations to be mounted from Britain, all the aircraft were moved to Wiesbaden in West Germany. In the longer term Giebelstadt was their intended base, (in Jan 56 this base was a the launch sites for the Project GENETRIX spy balloons) but was still being prepared. Early U-2 models used P& W J57/P37 engine, although fuel efficient, this engine was difficult to re-light if it flamed out at high altitude.
A-2 camera being loaded into the payload bay
Detachment A eventually moved to Giebelstadt in Oct 56. A number of operational missions were flown over Eastern Europe after 10 Jul 56 from Giebelstadt, but none were over Russia. Det A was stood down during Nov 57. In 17 months seven pilots had flown 23 missions, six over USSR, five over Eastern Europe and most of remainder over the Mediterranean.
Mission 2003 Eastern Europe
On Wed 20th Jun 56 from Wiesbaden flown by Carl Overstreet. Flew north and west to gain altitude then looped back over the base and turned east. Entered hostile territory where the borders of West Germany, East Germany and Czechoslovakia met. Flew across northern Czechoslovakia, then turned north passing east of Dresden and into Poland. Flew over every major Polish city, then back to Wiesbaden the way it came in via Prague.
Mission 2009 Eastern Europe
On 2nd Jul 56 from Wiesbaden flown by Jake Kratt. Flew south across Austria then into Hungary. After Budapest, turned south flying along the Yugoslav border, all the way across Bulgaria to the Black Sea then back to Wiesbaden. A seven hour sortie
Leningrad from a U-2
Mission 2010 Eastern Europe
On 2nd Jul 56 from Wiesbaden flown by Glen Dunaway. Headed north over East Germany, southern Poland, eastern Czechoslovakia, Hungary then Romania before turning around at the Black Sea and returning to Wiesbaden. A seven hour sortie.
1st Soviet Overflight Mission 2013
On 4th Jul 56 flown by Hervey Stockman in Article 347 marked as NACA 187. The first flight over the Soviet Union. From Wiesbaden over East Germany and Poland, before crossing the Soviet border near Grodno in Belorus. Over various bomber bases around Minsk, then north to the naval shipyards and bomber bases at Leningrad. Then west over more bomber bases in the Baltic States and finally back to Wiesbaden. An 8hr 45min flight. This mission was tracked by Soviet radar and a number of MiG fighters unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the U-2. This aircraft (Article 347) is now on display at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington DC.
Fili airframe plant in Moscow from a U-2
2nd Soviet Overflight - Mission 2014
On 5th Jul 56 flown by Carmine Vito in Article 347 marked as NACA 187. Flew a similar route to Mission 2013 but further south. Over Kracow in Poland, then into the Ukraine over Brest and Baranovici. Then towards Moscow virtually following the railway from Minsk to the Soviet capital. Over the Fili airframe plant in Moscow, then northwest to Kaliningrad and the main Soviet flight test and research centre at Ramenskoye. Then back to Wiesbaden via the Baltic States. This overflight was again tracked by Soviet radars and MiG-17s.
3rd Soviet Overflight - Mission 2020
On 9th Jul 56 flown by Marty Knutson from Wiesbaden. North over Berlin, East Germany and the Baltic States to Riga. Then east and south covering targets around Kaunas, Vilnius and Minsk before returning via Warsaw to Wiesbaden.
4th Soviet Overflight - Mission 2021
On 9th Jul 56 flown by Carl Overstreet from Wiesbaden. South into Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Then northeast into the Ukraine as far as Kiev and over various bomber bases. Back to Wiesbaden via Poland.
5th Soviet Overflight - Mission 2024
On 10th Jul 56 flown by Glen Dunaway from Wiesbaden. Over East Germany, Poland, Ukraine to Kerch on the eastern tip of the Crimean Peninsula. Back via Sevastopol, Simferopol, Odessa, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to Wiesbaden. Tracked by radar and fighter aircraft near Odessa.
10th Jul 56 protest note delivered by USSR over Missions 2020/2021. All overflights of Russia suspended by President Eisenhower.
Suez Crises - Missions 1104 and 1105
On 29th Aug 56 two U-2s flew from Wiesbaden to the Suez area where they photographed preparations for the Suez landings. This mission then landed at Incirlik in Turkey. On 30th Aug 56 the two U-2s at Incirlik retraced the previous days sortie, flying over the Suez area than landing back at Wiesbaden.
Detachment B began moving to Incerlik near Adana in Turkey in late August early September 56.
Nine sorties were flown over various Middle Eastern countries involved in the Suez crisis. Build-up to the 10 day Suez conflict began on 29 Oct 56. Det B flew daily sorties over the Suez area during the build-up to the conflict. Troops landed at Suez on 6 Nov 56. A total of 14 sorties were flown over Syria between 7 Nov and 18 Dec 56.
On 20th Nov 56 flown by Frank Powers from Incirlik. Flew north over Syria and Iraq. Over Bagdhad then into Iran before turning north towards the Caspian Sea. Crossing the Soviet border flew over Baku before turning west to overfly Yerevan. From here the flight was supposed to head for Tbilisi, but electrical problems forced an early return to Incirlik. This was the first flight to use the B-Camera. Tracked by radar and fighters. Mission 4018 Eastern Europe On 10th Dec 56 from Incirlik over Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and back to Incirlik.
Mission 2029 Eastern Europe
On 10th Dec 56 from Wiesbaden over Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and back to Wiesbaden. On this sortie the pilot, Carmen Vito, known as the Lemon Drop Kid, nearly bit on the suicide L-pill, mistaking it for one of his favourite sweets. The L-pill was available until Jan 60 when it was replaced by a poisoned needle.
Det C moved to Eielson AFB in Alaska during the summer of 1957. First mission over Russia planned for 7/8 Jun 57 flown by Jim Barnes out of Atsugi in Japan, but spoilt by bad weather over the ICBM impact area near Klyuchi on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Aircraft stayed offshore and landed at Eielson.
7th Soviet Overflight
On 18th Jun 57 flown by Al Rand from Eielson over the Kamchatka Peninsula and back to Eielson.
Ports underneath the U-2 for the B Camera Operation Soft Touch missions during 4-27 Aug 57 over Russia and China.
8th Soviet Overflight Mission 4035
On 5 Aug 57 flown by Eugene ‘Buster’ Edens from Det B deployment at Lahore in Patistan and returning. The Soviet missile test facility at Tyuratam first found and photographed at a distance on this mission.
9th Soviet Overflight
On 12th Aug 57 from Lahore and returning no details
10th & 11th Soviet Overflights
On 21st Aug 57 from Lahore over Semipalatinsk Novokuznetsk Tomsk Berezovskiy and back to Lahore.
12th & 13th Soviet Overflights
On 22nd Aug 57 from Lahore and returning. Mission 4050, flown by Jim Cherbonneaux discovered the nuclear weapons testing facility at Semipalatinsk. The photographs showed many of the ground zeros from previous nuclear tests. The other sortie discovered Saryshagan (Used to test radars against missiles fired from Kapustin Yar and later a centre for Soviet ABM development). Another sortie flown by Bill Hall mapped the whole of Tibet. Tyuratam
14th Soviet Overflight Mission 4058
On 28th Aug 57 flown by EK Jones from Lahore - Tyuratam overflown and photographed.
15th Soviet Overflight Mission 4059
On 10th Sep 57 flown by Bill Hall from Incirlik overflew and photographed the Soviet missile test centre at Kapustin Yar. An R-12 missile was photographed on the launch pad. This flight was intended to continue north towards Moscow, but Bill Hall saw so many MiG’s trying to intercept him he turned south to cross the Ukraine. Near Kiev the Soviets fired a barrage of anti-aircraft artillery at the aircraft without success.
16th Soviet Overflight Mission 6008
On 16th Sep 57 flown by Barry Baker from Eielson over Klyuchi on the Kamchatka Peninsula and back to Eielson. This mission was flown using radar-evading ‘Dirty-Bird’ but was detected and trailed by 5 MiG’s. Because of the extra equipment the aircraft carried it was limited to 59,000 ft, looking down through the driftsight Baker could make out the ‘bonedome’ of one Sovier fighter pilot only a few thousand feet below the U-2.
17th Soviet Overflight Mission 2040
On 13th Oct 57 flown by Hervey Stockman from Giebelstadt. North to the northern tip of Norway, then east parallel to the Soviet coast then south towards the Kola Fjord. Over Polyarnyy, Severomorsk and Murmansk. On south as far as Monechegorsk before leaving Soviet territory at northern Norway. Landed back at Giebelstadt after more then nine hours in the air.
In Nov 57 Det A was disbanded and returned to the USA. From this point on Giebelstadt was only used to refuel U-2’s en-route to and from Det B.
18th Soviet Overflight Mission 6011
On 2nd Mar 58 flown by Tom Crull from Eielson. Over the Soviet Far East naval aviation bases at Komsomolsk and Khabarovsk. Then south following the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Chinese border and back to Eielson. Again despite the use of a ‘Dirty Bird’ this flight was tracked by radar and interceptors.
Late ’58 to early ’59 Lockheed began a re-engine programme for the remaining 13 CIA U-2’s installing the more powerful P&W J75-P13. These aircraft were known as U-2C’s.
U-2C on finals
Project Rainbow to reduce radar-cross section by using radar-absorbing materials and techniques. Not really successful, blue-black paint known as ‘Sea Blue’ was eventually adopted.
Op Congo Maiden
Towards the end of March 57 seven U-2s staged from Eielson and returned. Flown by ‘Buzz’ Curry, Rudy Anderson, Bobby Gardiner and ‘Snake’ Bedford. These flight investigated activity along the extreme eastern and northern coastlines of Siberia.
19th Soviet Overflight
On 15 May 59 flown by Lyle Rudd from NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines. Flew north over Mongolia and actually crossed into the USSR, flying as far as Lake Baikal. Then Rudd turned south, crossed over the Chinese steppes, overflew Lhasa and finally landed at Dhaka after 9hr 40min in the air. This was the longest operational U-2 mission to date covering 4,200 miles.
9 & 18 Jun 59 Operation Hot Shop U-2 and EB-47TT Tell-Two on a border flight obtained the first telemetry ever of a Soviet R-7 ICBM during the first stage burn – 80 seconds after launch.
20th Soviet Overflight Mission 4125 - Operation Touchdown
On 9th Jul 59 flown by Marty Knutson from Peshawar in northern Pakistan. North over Saryshagan test range and the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site followed by the nearby Dolon airfield. Then over the Urals to Sverdlovsk and over Tyuratam before landing at Zahedan in Iran. The sortie lasted 9hrs 10 mins and only 20 gallons of fuel remained when the aircraft landed.
Det C deployed U-2’s to the new Thai airbase of Takhli and three flights over China and Tibet were mounted in early September. Det B overflights of Israel discover the Dimona nuclear reactor and processing facility under construction.
Article 360 in a paddy field
24 Sep 59
Whilst conducting a test flight in Article 360 from Det C in Atsugi in Japan, Tom Crull encountered problems on a test flight and eventually ran out of fuel. With great skill Tom Crull managed to dead-stick the aircraft onto a small civilian airfield at Fujisawa, where it was promptly surrounded and photographed by curious Japanese civilians. The damaged U-2C aircraft was shipped back to Lockheed in the USA for repairs. Article 360 was then returned to Detachment B at Adana in Turkey where it gained a reputation as a 'Hanger Queen'. For a variety of reasons Article 360 ended up being flown by Gary Powers on Mission 4154, Operation Grand Slam, when he was shot down.
21st Soviet Overflight Mission 8005, the first mission flown by the RAF. On 6th Dec 59 flown by Sqn Ldr Robbie Robinson out of Peshawar. North over Tyuratam, Kyshtym, Engels airfield near Saratov, Kapustin Yar and the bomber factory at Kuybyshev. Exited Soviet airspace over the Black Sea and recovered to Incirlik. The codename for the RAF participation in the U-2 programme was JACKSON.
22nd Soviet Overflight Mission 8009, the second mission flown by the RAF. On 5th Feb 60 flown by Flt Lt John MacArthur out of Peshawar. Headed northwest over the Aral Sea looking for missile sites, but discovered a new Soviet Bomber at Kazan. Eight Tu-22 BLINDER aircraft captured on film. Then south down the Volga over the missile factory at Dnepropetrovsk. After leaving Soviet airspace at Sevastopol, MacArthur landed at Incirlik.
23nd Soviet Overflight Mission 4155 - Operation Square Deal
On 9th Apr 60 flown by Bob Ericson out of Peshawar. North over Saryshagan, the strategic bomber base Dolon, then Semipalatinsk, Saryshagan and Tyuratam before landing at Zahedan in Iran. This flight was tracked virtually the whole time by the Soviet Air Defence organisation and a number of MiG-19’s made unsuccessful attempts to shoot down the aircraft.
24th Soviet Overflight - Mission 4154 - Operation Grand Slam
On 1 May 60 flown by Frank Powers from Peshawar. Article 360 used for this ultra long-range sortie, the first ever completely across the USSR, despite previously being involved in the crash landing at Fujisawa on 24 Sep 59 and renown among the pilots as a ‘Hanger Queen’. Planned route was north over Tyuratam, Chelyabinsk just south of Sverdlovsk, Kirov – Plesetsk – Severodvinsk – Kandalksha – Murmansk – then Bodo. Shot down near at 70,500ft near Sverdlovsk by a salvo of three SA-2 Guideline missiles which also shot down Soviet fighter.
From 1956-60 U-2 aircraft flew 24 missions over the USSR. 6 by Det A, 4 by Det C and 14 by Det B including Power’s flight.
From Oct 60 onwards SAC U-2 ops over Cuba firstly in build-up to Bay of Pigs then the aftermath. During summer ’61 the six CIA U-2s modified to allow in-flight re-fuelling – these aircraft known as U-2F. During late summer / autumn flights over Cuba discovered SAM sites. In Oct 62 they discovered the IRBM sites. In 1963 ‘several’ aircraft modified for carrier operations – called U-2G. In 1966 order placed for eight new re-designed aircraft known as U-2R. Fitted with P&W J75/P-13B engine. Capable of flying above 75,000ft. Last aircraft delivered on 11 Dec 68. Six more ordered 23 Nov 66. New camera, modified version of that developed for A-12, known as the H-camera.
During Vietnam War U-2’s conducted operations to gather intelligence on North Vietnam – initially known as 'Lucky Dragon' this project was renamed ‘Trojan Horse’, then ‘Olympic Torch’, 'Senior Book' and finally 'Giant Dragon'. The sorties involved flying along North Vietnam and Chinese borders, generally gathering SIGINT.
Taiwan U-2 overflights ended in Oct 74
The success of the original model of the U-2 in gathering information on the Warsaw Pact countries came to an abrupt end of 1 May 60 when Gary ‘Frank’ Powers was shot down by a volley of SA-2 missiles near Sverdlovsk in central Russia. However, that did not spell an end to U-2 operations – quite the reverse.
The USAF, still smarting from Eisenhower’s decision to have the original U-2’s flown under CIA rather than USAF ownership, had decided to get a foothold in the area of high-altitude reconnaissance long before the loss of Frank Powers, after all, this was an area which they considered was their territory, not the preserve of the CIA.
Lockheed U-2A Crowflight with 'Q' bay pod
During the summer of 1957 Lockheed delivered six U-2A aircraft specially modified to conduct the High Altitude Sampling Programme (HASP) by the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) based at Laughlin AFB in Texas. Operating from a variety of deployed locations in Operation Crowflight, which was later renamed Toy Soldier, these aircraft with fitted with filter systems, located in the nose or in a pod attached to the side of the 'Q' bay, and were used to gather small particles from the upper stratosphere to determine whether nuclear debris from Soviet nuclear tests were present and allow it to be analysed. The HASP flights continued until an international moratorium on banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere was eventually agreed in Jul 1963.
Wreckage of U-2 in Bejing
As the Crowflight / Toy Soldier flights gradually reduced the USAF began to use the U-2s to conduct photo-reconnaissance and SIGINT missions, sometimes in conjunction, but often in competition with the CIA U-2s – a ridiculous situation that could not continue. Also in 1959 the first six pilots from the nationalist Chinese Air Force (CAF) in Taiwan had commenced training to fly the U-2 in a joint CIA / CAF operation. This resulted in a number of CAF pilots flying numerous reconnaissance sorties over China, losing a number of aircraft and pilots as a result. The Communist Chinese took great delight in displaying the wreckage of the aircraft in Peking. These operations by the CAF ‘Black Cat’ squadron between 1958 and 1974 will be the subject of a more detailed article at a later date.
U-2 photo of San Cristobal
On 28 Aug 62 it was a CIA U-2 that found the initial evidence that the Russians had sited a number of missiles in Cuba. This soon resulted in a dispute between the CIA and USAF over who should conduct further overflights of Cuba, a dispute that was won by the USAF. To almost to rub salt in the wound, the CIA had to allow the USAF to use their U-2Cs that were equipped with the more advanced System 9 intercept warner and System 12 receiver that gave the pilot a warning if SAM radars were locked onto his aircraft. The CIA agency pilots quickly checked out Majors Anderson and Heyser in the U-2C at Edwards AFB. Then operating out of McCoy AFB in Florida from 21 Oct 62, the U-2Cs flown by Anderson and Heyser soon confirmed the presence of SS-4 missiles on trailers, as well as missile erectors, support vehicles and accommodation facilities in the San Cristobal area of Cuba. Over 20 further U-2C sorties were flown by the USAF pilots over Cuba, but this was an increasingly risky enterprise as the Russians had now established over 24 SAM sites all over the island, as mission planners often insisted that the U-2s fly identical or very similar tracks and the same time each day.
U-2 pilot Rudolf Anderson
Finally on 27 Oct 62 the inevitable happened. Maj Rudolf Anderson was on another overflight of Cuba in a U-2C when, despite the presence of the warning systems, he was surprised by a volley of SA-2 missiles fired from the Banes naval base at the eastern end of the island. It is believed that one missile exploded above and behind his aircraft and a fragment from the missiles warhead penetrated the cockpit and entered Anderson’s pressure suit in the shoulder area. Anderson is believed to have died when the cockpit depressurised, his pressure suit failed to inflate correctly and the aircraft spun out of control and crashed. Anderson, who’s body was subsequently returned by the Cubans, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest peacetime decoration available in the USA. Tragically, 24 hours after Anderson was killed, the Russians agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for the removal of the Jupiter IRBMs from Turkey. The U-2s then continued to monitor the withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba and by December the 4080th had logged over 100 sorties over Cuba.
The sorties over Cuba were also the first time that the U-2C had been challenged by the MiG-21. The MiG-21s were flown by Cuban pilots and had been seen many times by the U-2C pilots as they attempted to climb and intercept the high-flying spyplanes. However, although the MiG-21 could zoo-climb up to around 60,000ft, in the thin upper atmosphere they were effectively out of control and on a ballistic trajectory, with very little opportunity to fire off a missile or U-2 with sugar-scoop operate their guns. Nevertheless, one U-2C pilot was given a rude shock when a MiG-21 actually shot over the top of his aircraft, the shaken pilot then watched as the MiG-21 then tumbled out of control into the thicker air lower down before the pilot could recover. To counter the potential threat from a heat-seeking missile fired from a MiG-21, the U-2s were fitted with a ‘Sugar Scoop’, an 18-inch extension to the tailpipe, which would hopefully shield the hottest part of the engine from the infra-red seeker.
U-2F refuelling in mid-air
In an effort to extend the range of the U-2 already considerable range, a number of aircraft were fitted with air-to-air refuelling (AAR) equipment – the AAR capable U-2A was re-designated the U-2E and the AAR capable U-2Cs were re-designated the U-2F. However, although the AAR U-2s were capable of flying for 14 hours and over 7,000 miles, this took little account of pilot fatigue and although an additional oxygen cylinder was installed on these aircraft, little use was made of this capability. It was also decided to see if the U-2 could operate from an aircraft carrier. A U-2 was equipped with a strengthened tail and an arrestor hook. A set of wing spoilers was also added to ensure the aircraft could actually land accurately on the flight deck, rather than floating over the arrestor cables and the carrier capable aircraft were re-designated U-2Gs. One aircraft, Article 349, was AAR and carrier capable and was the only U-2H.
U-2G about to land on
In early 1964 Bob Schumacher conducted a number of trial landings and take-offs from the USS Ranger and a number of other CIA pilots, including Jim Barnes, became ‘carrier qualified’. The target for the U-2G was the French nuclear test site, situated at Mururoa Atoll in the middle of the South Pacific, well out of the range of a land-based U-2. Consequently, in May 64 a U-2G operating from the USS Ranger photographed Mururoa Atoll and until 1968 three of the CIA’s fleet of U-2’s and a number of pilots were always carrier capable, although few actual sorties were ever flown.
U-2 in Vietnam
At the end of 1963 President Lyndon Johnson decided to deploy the U-2 to Vietnam in support of the increased tempo of the Vietnam War. On 16 Feb 64 fours U-2s from the 4080th SRW were deployed to Bien Hoa AFB near Siagon under an operation known as ‘Lucky Dragon’ and later as ‘Trojan Horse’. Flying one or two sorties a day, the U-2s operated over North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and produced so much film that they initially overwhelmed the fairly rudimentary photographic processing facilities at Bein Hoa. However, by the end of 1965, after a number of aircraft had been lost in accidents, the 4080th SRW was reduced to just 11 aircraft and a number of personnel were starting to be posted away to the new SR-71 Blackbird programme, it became increasingly difficult to justify continuing USAF operations with such a small number of aircraft. Finally, SAC HQ made plans to de-activate the U-2 operation completely in 1968. The attrition rate of the U-2 A/C model was high and only eleven of the 55 aircraft build actually survived active service to be retired.
This was not the end of the U-2, far from it. By the mid 1970’s, even though the Mach 3 SR-71 was now in service, Kelly Johnson believed that there was still a need for a high-altitude, long endurance manned aircraft for reconnaissance duties. In Aug 1966, after much lobbying by Johnson and other supporters of the U-2 with the USAF, Lockheed finally received the go-ahead to develop a new and much improved version of the aircraft. This decision recognised the growing need for additional SIGINT platforms capable of operating at high altitude nears the borders of the Warsaw Pact, together with the introduction of new Long-Range Oblique Reconnaissance (LOROP) cameras that could acquire high quality images many miles to the side of the aircraft. In a re-run of the original building contract for the U-2, the CIA funded the airframes and the USAF funded the engines.
The new U-2R was ready for flight test in 1967 and entered operational service in 1968. Although similar in appearance to the original U-2, the new aircraft was actually a completely different design and was about a third larger than the earlier aircraft with double the payload and fuel capacity. The larger cockpit allowed the pilot to wear a much more comfortable full pressure suit and was fitted with a zero-zero ejection seat. The high altitude version of the Pratt & Whitney J75-13B engine was retained, giving 17,00 lbs thrust. A new 104 span wing, with an area of 1,000ft, would provide the additional lift needed for the new design that soon had a gross take-off weight of 40,000lb. The U-2R could carry a 3,000lb payload over 3,000 miles at altitudes at or above 70,000ft, a considerable advance on the original model. However, only 12 U-2Rs were actually built, six for the CIA and six for the USAF.
U-2R on USS America
In 1968 the U-R was deployed to Vietnam, an operation now know as ‘Giant Dragon’ and were mainly used for SIGINT and COMINT missions, leaving the SR-71 to conduct photo reconnaissance missions. In 1971 Melpar developed a new COMINT sensor for the U-2R. Known as ‘Senior Spear’ the equipment was carried in a podded mid-wing installation and this sensor gathered much valuable information during the latter stages of the war in Vietnam. To retain a carrier capability, a U-R was also fitted with an arrestor hook removed from a U-2G and in 1969 Bill Park and a number other CIA pilots became carrier qualified on the USS America. However, there is no record of any subsequent operational sorties by the U-R from a carrier. Just before the U-2 wing celebrated its 20th anniversary on 1 Apr 76, it was announced that it would move from Davis- Monthan to Beal AFB as part of the 9th SRW.
As the Cold War continued, the USAF realised that there would still be a role for the U-2R. However, even though the USAF had acquired the remaining CIA U-2R in 1974 when the CIA’s 18-year involvement with the U-2 came to an end, more aircraft were needed. Other individuals in the USAF and US Defence Industries, particularly Boeing and Teledyne Ryan, believed that the USAF competition to develop a high-altitude, long-range, RPV designed specifically for the long endurance photo-reconnaissance or electronic surveillance mission would be the way ahead. Although the Boeing YQM-94A Compass Cope was developed for this role, the USAF eventually decided that the technology wasn’t mature enough and ran the risk of an RPV crashing in denied territory and delivering to their adversaries the latest camera and radar technology.
In 1978 it was announced that the USAF was planned to acquire at least 25 new U-2Rs; this time it was decided to avoid using the rather controversial U-2 designation and the new aircraft would be known as TR-1s for tactical reconnaissance. This decision reflected the realization that NATO forces in Central Europe lacked sufficient reconnaissance capabilities to ensure the early detection of a sudden Warsaw Pact ‘blitzkrig’, particularly during the winter months when cloud covered large areas of the continent and negated the use of photo-reconnaissance satellites.
TR-1 with PLSS
One of the roles originally planned for the TR-1 was for the aircraft to be equipped with the Precision Location & Strike System (PLSS). The PLSS was a secret ELINT system built to locate Warsaw Pact radars and missile sites and designed specifically for the TR-1. In service three TR-1 aircraft equipped with the PLSS would fly a racetrack pattern at high level set back from the border and fix the location of the enemies radars by triangulation, this information would then be quickly passed to attacking aircraft by data-link. However, the PLSS was delayed by various development problems, proved difficult to integrate with the other aircraft systems and was cancelled in 1987.
Tr-1 with superpods
The only real differences between the U-2R and the new TR-1 was a slight change to horizontal tail to stiffen it up and the addition of large wing-mounted super-pods that could each carry a variety of sensors weighing up to 800lbs. The super pods were two feet eight inches wide and twenty-four feet long, three times larges than the Senior Spear pods previously carried by the U-2R in Vietnam. In fact in 1977, even before the TR-1 entered service, the new super pods were used on the U-2R to carry the new Senior Ruby SIGINT collection system.
The nose of the TR-1 was also modular and could accept a variety of differently configured noses carrying a 600lb payload forward of the main fuselage. All together the TR-1 could carry a payload of nearly 4,000 lbs divided between the Q bay, the super pods and the nose. In Oct 89 the last of the 37 TR-1 aircraft ordered was delivered to the USAF and there are now 29 aircraft remaining in the fleet. The U-2R and TR-1 were both powered by a special high altitude version of the P&W J-75. When the J-75 engine was replaced by the GE F101-GE-F29 turbofan (later renamed the F118-GE-101) in the 1990s, the TR-1s and remaining U-2Rs were all re-designated the U-2S.
U-2R with SYERS camera nose
Although the U-2R/TR-1/U-2S has been used predominantly for acquiring SIGINT, it has always retained the ability to undertake photographic reconnaissance missions. For this role it can be equipped with the HR-329 (H-cam) high resolution camera with a gyro-stabilized framing system, a 66 inch focal length and folded optical path. The other photographic option is the Intelligence Reconnaissance Imagery System II (IRIS III), an optical imagery system that uses a high-resolution panoramic camera with a 24 inch focal length. Again the IRIS III uses a folded optical path system but this is mounted on a rotating optical bar assembly allowing the camera to scan through 140 degrees of viewing area. The IRIS III camera can provide a 32 nm swath on both sides of the aircraft and although the system does not have the resolution of the H-cam, the wider coverage provided is more useful for identifying potential targets of interest.
The modular design of the U-2R/TR-1/U-2S allows the aircraft to carry a variety of sensor systems in either the nose, in superpods under the wings or attached to the upper fuselage. These systems include:
TR-1 / U-2R Super Pods
The SENIOR GLASS system is a SIGINT sensor suite which includes the SENIOR SPEAR COMINT system and the SNIOR RUBY ELINT system and this system was upgraded in 1996. This system is carried in the superpods.
SENIOR YEAR Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System [SYERS]
The Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS), now contains an upgraded sensor with three visible bands and two short wave IR bands, The U-2 SYERS imagery satisfies a large percentage of theater commanders' imagery requirements. SYERS is the electro-optical daylight/fair weather imagery sensor on the U-2. The long focal length sensor provides deep look, high resolution, near-real-time (NRT) imagery to the warfighter. SYERS. The SYERS system is contained in a special nose section which is fitted as necessary.
The U-2s can also be fitted with a special nose containing a Raytheon Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARS-2A) which entered service in 2001. The ASARS-2A is an imaging radar system that can provide very high-resolution images day or night and in all weather conditions. The radar has two V shaped planar arrays, equipped with electronically scanned antennas, that scan the ground on either side of the aircraft and can acquire images out to around 160km. The radar can operate in either search or spot modes and data from the SYERS and ASARS -2A is relayed in near real time via a wideband data link, with a range close to 300nm, to a dedicated ground station without being seen by the pilot.
TR-1 / U-2R Nose Options
SENIOR SPAN / SPUR
Senior Span and Senior Spur are two separate satellite relay systems that are contained in a special dorsal pod and carried on the upper fuselage. When out of range of the data link system SYERS and ASARS data is transmitted via these satellite links at global ranges.
SENIOR YEAR Defensive System
Senior Year is a defensive system carried in the nose of the aircraft and designed to protect the U-2S against all current and future threats.
A number of other upgrades have also been incorporated in the U-2S. Hughes has developed a low-cost, small, compact, lightweight electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) dual-band reconnaissance sensor for tactical as well as high-altitude standoff applications. This sensor is a derivative of SYERS and is known at the DB-110. The DB-110's direct viewing reflective optic sensor is inertially stabilized to provide high- resolution imagery when operating in severe vibration environments. Its visible silicon CCD focal plane with TDI (time delay integration) and high quantum efficiency indium antimonide (InSb) IR focal plane provide continuous ground coverage, spot coverage, and stereo coverage in both bands simultaneously or individually, over a wide range of operational conditions. The sensor's small size and its light weight permit pod installation or in-board installation in various high-performance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. The DB-110 sensor system includes a reconnaissance management system (RMS) and is intended to interface with various airborne digital tape or solid state recorders and digital datalinks for real-time transmission to ground stations.
The Multi-Spectral Electro-Optical Reconnaissance Sensor [formerly the Advanced Electro-Optical Recon Capability] SYERS upgraded the SYERS capability in night or in fog or haze by adding Multi-Spectral capability. Additionally, resolution, geolocational accuracy, and broad area coverage were also increased by improving sensor stability.
U-2S updated cockpit
The original cockpit layout of the U-2S has also been upgraded in the Reconnaissance Avionics Maintainability Program which began in 1999. The round dials in the original cockpit were replaced by two 6 by 8 inch multifunction displays and the large driftsight was removed. To improve navigation, an Aztec GPS receiver is embedded in the Litton LN-33 P2/P3 INS In normal operations the F118 engine consumes 16% less fuel than the J-75. Instead of have to 'fly the throttle' dry carefully at altitude, it's possible to just select full power on takeoff and leave the throttle in that position until the pilot wishes to descend. Typically the aircraft can take-off after a 500ft roll, climb at 160kts and 8,000 feet per minute to the normal operating altitude of around 75,000ft in about 30 minutes. At over 70,000ft, fuel flow is around 910lb per hour, less than at full idle on the ground. In the cruise the aircraft typically operates on autopilot 3kts below the maximum mach and 5 kts above the stall speed, a fairly narrow margin, but much better than the 3-5 kt band the old U-2A-C operated within. Airspeed in the cruise is around 110 kts with the True Airspeed up around 410 kts giving a range of over 1220 miles.
The U-2S is still operated by the 9th Reconnaissance Wing based at Beale AFB in California. Aircraft are frequently detached to Osan in Korea, RAF Fairford in England, RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and Istres in France. In addition, aircraft have frequently operated out of Taif in Saudi Arabia and Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.
Although the U-2S has now been in service for a number of years, the high-time airframe has only reached a third of its predicted fatigue life, so there’s plenty of life left in the airframe and the latest avionics and sensor upgrades have ensured the aircraft remains viable for the foreseeable future. Many observers believed that the arrival in service of the RQ-4B Global Hawk would hasten the end of the U-2S, but at present the USAF intends to operate this advanced UAV alongside the U-2S as the two vehicles complement each other rather well. The U-2S can carry a much greater payload of sensors than the RQ-4B, but this is offset by the ability of the RQ-4B to loiter over an area for over 24 hrs, something that it would take 3 U-2S aircraft to accomplish. Neither the U-2S or RQ-4B are particularly stealthy and they would not be flown over an area with a very high surface-to-air missile threat. During Gulf War II that vital reconnaissance role was initially undertaken by an unmanned stealthy UAV, believed to be a larger version of Lockheed’s DarkStar, that was later seen by a number of U-2S pilots orbiting above their aircraft. Again this new high-altitude stealthy UAV does not really pose a threat to the U-2S, as it has been designed from the outset for a different role and will complement, rather than compete with, both the U-2S and the RQ-4B.
U-2S at sunset2
Now that the Dassault Mirage IVP has been retired, and with the English Electric Canberra also nearing the end of it’s long and distinguished service, the U-2S will soon become the only dedicated high-altitude manned reconnaissance platform. In time the U-2S will be retired, but only when the capability it currently possesses can be replicated by another air vehicle, manned or unmanned. The RQ-4B Global Hawk already has a formidable array of sensors and will also incorporate a SIGINT package in the production aircraft. In time there’s little doubt that smaller and more advanced sensors will be developed for the RQ-4B and their capability will eventually exceed that provided by the sensors on the U-2S, but this will take both time and money. Consequently, although the RQ-4B is the obvious eventual successor to the U-2S, I suspect it will be many years before we actually see the last of the ‘Dragon Lady’, cruising along serenely and unmolested in the upper atmosphere on yet another vital intelligence gathering mission.
An unsuccessful contender for the maritime patrol requirement won by the Lockheed Neptune, the Martin P4M-1 Mercator was first used by VP-21 for high-speed minelaying duties. In 1951 the Patrol Unit of Naval Air Facility, Port Lautey, Morroco (VQ-2) and the Special Projects Division of Naval Air Station Sangley Point, Phillipines (VQ-1), began flying thw P4M-1Q electronic reconnaissance version. In June 1955 VQ-1 was based at Iwakuni, Japan taking over US Navy SIGINT duties from the PB4Y Privateer. Twenty one Mercators were eventually built and all were powered by two P&W Wasp Major radial engines and unusually two Allison turbojets buried in the rear of the radial engine nacelles.
Between 1950 to 1960 Mercator’s were employed on ‘ferret’ ELINT missions along Chinese borders and far eastern Russian coasts with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1). The only other units to operate Mercator’s was VQ-2 who operated over the Mediterranian and Atlantic. The P4M-1Q Mercator’s generally operated with aircraft codes from regular US Navy Neptune patrol squadrons to hide their true identity. Two XP4M-1s were built but never saw active service. Of the other 19, one was shot down in 1956, another was damaged beyond economic repair in 1959 and four were lost tpo other crashes. A number of other aircraft narrowly survived attacks by Chinese MiG's
The Mercator’s were gradually replaced by the EA-3 Skywarrior, which as it operated from aircraft carriers, allowed much greater flexibility. The remaining P4M-1Q Mercator's were eventually withdrawn from service in May 1960 and only a few survived in museums.
In the early 1950s the USAF selected the English Electric Canberra as a replacement for their B-26 Invader, under an agreement for Martin to build 250 versions under licence and known as the B-57. However, although the USAF later insisted on some significant changes to the design of later versions of the aircraft, the most obvious being a two, rather than three-man crew housed in an tandem canopy and redesigned engine nacelles to accommodate the Wright YJ65-W-1 engines, rather than the Rolls-Royce Avons, the initial aircraft delivered to the USAF were externally very similar to the RAF Canberra's. Because of some early design changes, when the B-57A first flew on 20 Jul 53 its performance was disappointing and after only eight aircraft had been produced it was cancelled. Nevertheless, the production line was soon restarted to produce a reconnaissance version of the aircraft, the RB-57A, and 67 were eventually produced. This new version performed well and as a result it was decided to modify ten RB-57A aircraft to enable them to undertake a high-classified operation that was given the codename Heart Throb.
Martin RB-57A Heart Throb starting an engine
Ten RB-57As were pulled from the production line and placed in a separate hanger at the Martin plant to enable the various modifications to be made away from prying eyes. It had been decided that the mission would be flown by a single pilot, so the navigators position and associated equipment was removed. All navigation equipment and armour was also removed, together with all the bomb bay equipment, after which the bomb bay was skimmed over. To assist en-route navigation and allow the pilot to accurately position the aircraft over a target, an optical viewfinder was installed looking out through the nose. A pressurised camera compartment housed one T-11 vertical mapping camera, two K-38 36 inch focal length oblique cameras that gave a 10-15% overlap, to allow stereoscopic viewing. Camera controls, that allowed the pilot to set shutter speeds and time between picture exposures, were installed in the cockpit. A pressure suit ventilation system was also fitted, as the pilot would have to wear a full MC-1 pressure suit because of the aircrafts planned operating altitude of between 50,000-62,000ft, at which any cabin decompression would mean almost instant death.
Martin RB-57A Heart Throb
In 1955 ten specially selected pilots commenced training to fly the Heart Throb RB-57A aircraft. The majority were current B-57 or RB-57 pilots – only one had no B-57 or reconnaissance experience. The ten pilots selected were: Capt Joseph A Guthrie, Capt Gerry Cooke, Capt Lou Picciano, Capt Jim Bryant, Capt Bob Hines, Capt Ralph Finlay, Capt Robert Holladay, Capt Bill Gafford, Capt Kenneth Johnson and Capt Robert Thorne. After the conversion training was complete, the aircraft were flown to the two airfields that the operational sorties would be mounted from. Four aircraft and pilots were sent Yokota in Japan, where the aircraft became part of the 6021st Reconnaissance Squadron and the remaining six aircraft and pilots went to Rhein-Main in West Germany, where the aircraft became part of the 7407th Support Squadron, which was also part of the 7499th Support Group based at Weisbaden. The 7499th Support Group also included a number of other units engaged in covert operations, including: the 7405th Support Squadron who flew various transport aircraft into Eastern Europe to drop off agents and supplies and the 7406th that flew C-130 aircraft on ELINT/COMINT missions along the Berlin air corridors. Another detachment of the 7407th Squadron was based at Bitburg and flew the RF-100A Slick Chick on reconnaissance sorties over Eastern Europe.
Martin RB-57A Heart Throbs
The first overflight by the Far East detachment took place on 26 Nov 56 and was flown by Joe Guthrie out of Chitose Air Base on the northern island of Hokkaido. After take-off Guthrie flew on a northerly heading at low-level of the eastern coast of Sakhalin. Then as he approached the northern end of the Sakhalin peninsular, Guthrie commenced a climb to 55,000ft and turned back onto a southerly heading to commence his photo run. Everything went well until Guthrie noticed he was slightly off track to photograph one particular airfield, consequently, he made a 360 degree turn to allow himself the opportunity to overfly the airfield for a second time – a complete ‘no-no’ as he was later to discover. The Russian authorities were obviously aware of the RB-57A, as the aircraft was tracked by radar throughout most of the recce run. Eventually, Guthrie cleared Soviet airspace and landed back at Chitose after a sortie lasting 4hrs 40min, before returning to Yokota. In the subsequent de-brief it was made clear to Guthrie by Colonel Avery, the debriefing officer, that 360 degree turns on a recce run were forbidden, the rule was ‘one pass – haul ass’. European sorties were mounted Rhein-Main and targeted various airfields, radar sites and other targets of interest in Eastern Europe and Western Russia, with the RB-57A aircraft again operating at around 55,000ft.
Martin RB-57A Heart Throb
Only four productive missions were flown in the Far East before the project was closed down following the arrival of the MiG 19 in theatre. However, the detachment at Rhein-Main flew between 16 and 20 sorties before it was closed down. These sorties were flown over Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia between Sep 1955 and Aug 1956 and were usually fairly shallow penetrations. Many sorties were tracked by MiG 15s or MiG-17s, but these aircraft lacked sufficient performance to pose a significant threat to the high-flying RB-57As. The European ‘Heart Throb’ operations finally ended in Aug 1956, probably as a result of the uprising in Hungary, when it was probably considered imprudent to have the aircraft making recce over-flights that could very easily be miss-interpreted for more offensive action.
In Sep 1957 two of the aircraft from the Far East detachment were handed over to the 4th Squadron of the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) in Taiwan and four pilots were checked out in the RB-57As. After a number of reconnaissance over-flights over Red China one aircraft, (ROCAF Ser No 5642), was shot down over the Shantung Peninsular by a pair of J-5s with the loss of Capt Guang-Huia Chao. The RB-57A aircraft in Europe continued flying on reconnaissance duties until 1958 during which large areas of Europe were photographed. The RB-57A Heart Throb aircraft were eventually consigned to the Davis-Monthan ‘boneyard’ in 1973, although a few were converted to become RB-57Fs.
Heart Throb badge
The Heart Throb overflights of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Far East were a success and enabled the USA to accurately map and identify specific targets, as well as providing intelligence on the deployment of forces in specific areas of interest. The aircraft were a ‘stopgap’ before the arrival of the U-2, but managed to take advantage of a window of opportunity during which the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Forces lacked any effective means of attacking the aircraft. The introduction into service of the MiG-19 would ensure only the U-2 could remain safe and even then the SA-2 SAM brought that activity to a sudden close. Nevertheless, the aircraft did what they were designed to do and were a valuable asset when they were in active service.
The Martin B-57 was an ‘Americanised’ version of B2 Canberra light bomber which was built under license by the Martin Aircraft Company as a replacement for the B-26. Colonel Richard Leghorn, one the key figures in Cold-War photo-reconnaissance, recognised the potential of the original Canberra. and believed that, with more powerful engines, larger wings and a single pilot, it could be developed into a dedicated reconnaissance aircraft capable of reaching 67,000ft with a very effective combat radius – but it took time before his vision became a reality.
After the introduction into service of the B-57A tactical bomber in 1953, it was soon decided to produce a tactical reconnaissance version, the RB-57A, which entered service in 1954. In March 1953 the highly classified ‘Black Knight’ programme began which called for a single seat subsonic high-altitude aircraft capable of carrying a 700lb payload over 3000 miles at 70,000ft. The Martin company proposal, a modified B-57, eventually won against submissions from Bell and Fairchild.
Martin’s winning proposal, the single seat RB-57D, was a standard B-57 fuselage with a larger wing and two uprated J57-P9 turbojets. Two K-38 cameras and two KC-1 split vertical cameras were carried. A total of 20 aircraft were eventually built and designated as follows:
RB57F on ground
The first RB-57D’s were delivered to the 4025th SRS in March 1956 based at Turner AFB GA, before they eventually moved to Laughlin AFB TX. Detachments were soon undertaken to Yokota in Japan to monitor fall-out from Soviet tests in Operation Sea Lion. Other sorties were flown over mainland China where the operating altitude of the RB-57D’s were well above the ceiling of the Chinese MiG-15’s. Other RB-57’s were detached to Eielson AFB in Alaska from where they conducted ELINT around Kamchatka peninsula of the Soviet Union. 15 Dec 56 – three aircraft overflew Vladivostok.
RB57F airborne 2
Four RB-57D aircraft of the 4025th SRS were also detached to Rhein-Main under Operation Bordertown where they carried out ELINT/SIGINT sorties along German border and Baltic. When the 4025th SRS was de-activated in Jun 59 the RB-57D aircraft were assigned to the 7407th Support Sqn – 2 additional aircraft added to complement including the unique RB-57D-1 equipped with SLR. Intelligence gathering sorties by the RB-57’s continued until 1964 when wing fatigue problems caused type to be withdrawn from service.
In late 1958 ‘Project Diamond Lil’ began. Six Taiwanese pilots were trained on the B-57C at Laughlin AFB, Texas, arriving back in Taiwan in Jan 59. Three RB-57D’s were then delivered by the USAF to Taoyuan Air Base near Taipei. During early part of 1959 the 3 RB-57s, flown by CNAF pilots, carried out numerous overflights of mainland China, photographing airfields, military establishments and ports. RF-101C Voodoos, also flown by CNAF pilots, were also occasionally used for overflights. On 7 Oct 59 one RB-57D was lost when, after descending following pressurisation failure, it was shot down by Chinese MiG-19 fighters. The remaining two RB-57D’s were withdrawn from Taiwan in 1964 due to wing fatigue.
When the 4025th SRS de-activated some RB-57D aircraft were assigned to NASA for high-altitude tests and terrain mapping and four aircraft were assigned to 4677th Radar Evaluation Sqn for calibration duties. In 1962 six aircraft were used to monitor effects of the last series of American atmospheric nuclear tests. Three aircraft were operated by the 1211th Test Sqn (Sampling) of the US Air Weather Service at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico and re-designated WB-57D’s – unit later became 58th Weather Reconnaissance Sqn.
RB57 - broken wing
In 1966, 2 years after the type had been withdrawn from service, Martin re-built the wings of 8 stored aircraft. Designated the EB-57D, these aircraft were fitted with various ECM equipment and were used for evaluation tests until 1970.
RB-57 airborne from front right - short nose
In 1962 USAF approached General Dynamics to investigate updating the RB-57. The new design, designated RB-57F, included two 18,000 lbst P&W TF33-P-11A turbofan engines along with two 3,300 lbst P&W J60 –P-9 turbojets under each wing - these auxiliary engines were airstarted and idled up to 32,000 ft – full throttle was only used above 42,000ft. The aircraft carried the HTAC high-altitude camera, which weighed almost 2000kg, was used for taking oblique shots at 45 degrees up to 60nm range from the aircraft and provided a 30 inch resolution. ELINT/SIGINT equipment was carried in the nose. A total of 21 RB-57F aircraft were eventually built. Some of these aircraft were involved in the Early Day programme that involved high altitude air sampling for evidence of Soviet nuclear tests. In late 1963 two RB-57Fs were sent for trials with 7407th Combat Support Wg at Rhine-Main where they proved their effectiveness by making flights along the German border at over 60,000ft taking long-range photographs over the border into East Germany.
All the aircraft were assigned to 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wg at MacLelland AFB California. The aircraft were divided between 55th, 56th 57th and 58th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadrons (SRS). The 55th remained at MacLelland, the 56th deployed to Yokota, Japan, the 57th deployed to Avalon , Australia. and the 58th remained at Kirtland.
RB57 with bent wings
In 1965 one RB-57F, on loan to Pakistan, was operated by 24 Sqn of the Pakistan Air Force during the 1965 war against India. During this conflict the aircraft conducted a number of reconnaissance sorties over Indian Air Force airfields at 65,000ft. Eventually on 15 Sep 65 the aircraft was straddled by two SA-2 Guideline missiles as it commenced it’s descent towards Peshawar. Despite suffering major structural damage and sustaining over 170 holes, the pilot managed to nurse the aircraft back to Peshawar where he made a successful forced landing. The aircraft was eventually repaired and returned to the USA. In 1968 the aircraft were redesignated the WB-57F and used to monitor nuclear tests in China and India by sampling high-altitude fallout. Most aircraft were then phased out during the 1970’s and placed in storage at MASDC Davis-Monthan
Martin WB-57F with WAVE nose
Meanwhile NASA needed an aircraft capable of operating at high altitude whilst carrying a large payload to support the Earth Resources Satellite Programme and three WB-57F aircraft were eventually transferred to NASA in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The three aircraft were designated NASA 925 (ex 63-13501), NASA 926 (ex 63-13503) and NASA 928 (ex 63-13298). For NASA operations the aircraft often carry a 6,000lb data-gathering sensor pallet in the 3ft x 6ft former bomb-bay underneath the centre fuselage and as fuel burns off the aircraft are capable of reaching 70,000ft, consequently, when operating at extreme altitude both the pilot and System Equipment Operator (SEO) wear full pressure suits.
Currently only two of the original three WB-57F aircraft remain in service, NASA 926 and NASA 928, - NASA 925 was returned to MASDC at Davis-Monthan in Sep 1982 and is now displayed a the adjacent Pima County Air Museum. The remaining two aircraft have been kept busy conducting a variety of civil tasks worldwide, particularly using the Airborne Remote Earth Sensing (ARES) instrument, a combined hyperspectral imager/radiometer with a two dimensional focal plane array, in addition to a variety of cameras. The aircraft operate out of Ellington Field, Houston in Texas and recently were equipped with a special high-definition camera and other sensors in a specially adapted gimbal-mounted ball turret mounted in the nose, known as the WB-57F Ascent Video Experiment (WAVE) to track and video Space Shuttle launches and recoveries from high altitude.
On 10 Oct 05 one of the NASA WB-57F aircraft N928NA, flew from Ellington Field via Goose Bay to RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk arriving during the evening of 11 Oct 05 for an 11 day stay. The WB-57F then flew four missions out of Mildenhall at up to 48,500ft in UK airspace collecting ‘cosmic dust’. The Cosmic Dust Collector (CDC) mission uses two small metallic rectangular boxes carried under each wing that are designed to open at altitude and collect ‘interplanetary dust particles’, or in other words the remains of small meteorites or rocks from space that accumulate in the upper atmosphere, on an adhesive strip. At the end of the assigned track the boxes then automatically close at high altitude and after landing the adhesive strip was removed and returned to the US for analysis. The missions also allowed the WB057F crews to validate new radios and avionics and ensure these could interface correctly with European ATC agencies. There was also an unconfirmed report that the aircraft also supported a UK MOD assessment of future sensors for UAV applications in a European environment, by carrying the sensors in it’s sensor pallet under the fuselage – but for the time being, this report remains just speculation.
Martin WB-57F NASA 928 at Kandahar
In August 2006 NASA 928 arrived at RAF Mildenhall totally devoid of all the usual identification marks, particularly serial numbers or NASA logos - the only insignias were a small US flag on the tail fin and some even smaller flags beneath the cockpit on the port side. The lack of insignia possibly indicated that the aircraft was operating on behalf of another US government agency - who knows. After some local sorties, possibly to test the onboard equipment, the aircraft departed to Kandahar, in Afghanistan via Souda Bay in Crete. The aircraft then flew a number of sorties out of Kandahar, presumably carrying a classified sensor package and then returned to Ellington Field via Souda Bat and Mildenhall. I doubt we will ever know the exact nature of the sorties over Afghanistan, but I very much doubt they had much to do with the official line that the aircraft undertook a geological survey.
Updated Aug 2008
The McDonnell F2H-1 Banshee was developed as a carrier borne fighter aircraft and went on to serve with great distinction with the US Navy and Marine Corps during the Korean War whilst operating from a number of different aircraft carriers including, USS Valley Forge (CV-45), USS Essex (CV-9), USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39) and USS Franklin D Roosevelt (CVB-42).
One problem that soon came to light in Korea was the very limited tactical reconnaissance assets that were available to the UN forces. Various fighter aircraft were adapted into temporary reconnaissance aircraft, but it was essential that aircraft were built specifically for this role. The F2H-1 Banshee had already been developed into a fighter bomber version, the F2H-2, with increased internal fuel, 200-gallon wingtip tanks, external racks that could carry two 500lb bombs or six 5-inch rockets and the more powerful Westinghouse J34-WE-34 turbojet.
McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee
A reconnaissance version of the Banshee was quickly developed and was known as the F2H-2P Banshee and a total of 89 F2H-2Ps were eventually built, the first aircraft flying on 12 Oct 1950. Essentially the F2H-2P was simply an unarmed version of the F2H-2. However, it also had a wider longer nose, which accommodated a total of six vertical and oblique cameras. For night photography, a container holding, including 20 flash cartridges could be carried underneath each wing.
McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee
In fact the first Banshees to serve in Korea were a detachment of three F2H-2Ps from a composite squadron VC-61 aboard Valley Forge in 1951 and small detachments of these aircraft served alongside Banshee fighters both at sea and sometimes from shore bases throughout the Korean War. On 4 May 1955 a US Marine Photo Squadron, (VMJ-1), was ordered to conduct clandestine photo reconnaissance flights over Fukien Province in mainland China from Taiwan, searching for evidence of a build-up of Red Chinese forces in preparation for an invasion of Taiwan. The F2H-2P aircraft generally flew in pairs and were passed information on any enemy fighters attempting to intercept them by a VW-1 Super Constellation, orbiting over international waters between Taiwan and Fukien Province. A long-range radar run by the Nationalist Chinese in the Pescadores, some 110 miles from the mainland coast, also assisted in this task, but their command of English left something to be desired and made the information they passed difficult to understand.
McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee's in formation
The Banshees generally over flew China between 30,000 – 40,000ft. After one sortie, when the aircraft were instructed by Seventh Fleet specifically to fly at 40,000ft to achieve a particular photographic scale, leaving a long contrail as a result, and had to evade intercepting MiGs by diving down to low-level, the unit acquired four regular Banshee F2H-2 fighters to fly escort. Seventh Fleet also sent one of their best Fighter Direction Officers (FDO) to man a powerful radar on Makung Island, which could pick up a fighter-sized aircraft at over 250 miles, and also provide information on any potential threat from intercepting MiGs. On 13 Jun 1955, after a total of 77 missions over China, the crisis had passed and VMJ-1 was ordered to halt all further operations.
Detachments of F2H-2Ps from VC-61 and VC-62 continued to operate from various carriers after the end of the Korean War, until replaced in the mid 1950s by Grumman F9F-6P and F9F-9P Cougars. The F2H-2Ps were then transferred to reserve units and flew for a few more years before all the aircraft were eventually retired and scrapped.
USMC RF-4B In the initial specifications submitted to the US Navy for the new fleet defence fighter, McDonnell included a photographic reconnaissance version of the basic design. However, the USN expressed little interest in this option, preferring to stick with the F8U-1P, a reconnaissance version of the Crusader. Eventually the US Marine Corps ordered an initial batch of nine – an order that would eventually grow to 46. The RF-4B was unarmed and in the redesigned nose carried a small Texas Instruments AN/APQ-99 J-band monopulse radar optimised for terrain avoidance and three camera bay stations. Station 1 carried a single forward oblique or vertical KS-87 camera, Station 2 a single KA-87 low-altitude camera and Station 3 a single KA-55A or KA-91 high-altitude camera. The much larger KS-91 or KS-127A camera could also be carried. Unlike the RF-4C, cameras in the RF-4B were fitted on rotating mounts and could be aimed by the pilots at targets alongside the aircraft’s flight path. An AN/APQ-102 SLAR was fitted into the lower fuselage with an AN/AAD-4 infrared reconnaissance system immediately behind. An APR-25/27 warning system, an ASW-25B datalink and an ALQ-126 ECM package were also installed. Film from the cameras could be developed in flight and film cassettes ejected at low altitude to ground commanders. During the conflict in SE Asia 3 RF-4B’s were lost to ground fire and one was destroyed in an accident. In 1975 the USMC RF-4B’s were upgraded with an improved datalink, SLAR and infrared reconnaissance sytems togther with more powerful and efficient engines. In 1990 the surviving USMC RF-4Bs were retired from active service.
RF-4C After the USAF had begun to operate and appreciate the performance and capability of the F-4 Phantom, they realised that this aircraft would make an ideal basis for a reconnaissance aircraft to supplement and eventually replace the RF-101 Voodoo. The RF-4C development programme began in 1962 with the first aircraft flying some 2 years later. Like the RF-4B with RF-4C was equipped with three camera stations in the nose section. The forward station carried a single forward oblique KS-87 camera. The second station normally carried a KS-56 low altitude camera, but this could also house either a trio of vertical, left and right oblique KS-87 cameras or a left / right oblique KS-87 camera or a vertical KA-1 camera instead of the KS-87 or even a KS-72 replacing a KS-87 in the 30-degree oblique. The final ‘High Altitude’ camera station carried a single KA-55A or KA-91 in a stabilised mount. The third station could also house an AN/AVD-2 laser reconnaissance set, but this was later withdrawn from service.
Like the RF-4B the AN/APQ-72 radar was replaced by the Texas Instruments AN/APQ-99 J-band monopulse radar suitable for both terrain avoidance and terrain following as well as having a ground mapping capability. This radar was later replaced by the Texas Instruments AN/APQ-172 radar. Either the AN/AAD-5 or AN/AAS-18 infrared detection system was installed just behind the nose wheel bay. An AN/APQ-102 SLAR was also fitted just behind the reconnaissance bay. In some aircraft this system was replaced by the AN/APD-10 which included a datalink making it possible to send radar images to ground stations in real time. A variety of ECM systems were installed including the ALR-17, 31, 46, 50 or 126, the AN/ALR-46A RWR. The Westinghouse AN/AQL-115(V)-15 or Raytheon AN/AQL-184(V)1 ECM pod was often carried on the inboard pylon.
In 1974-76 under a project called ‘Peace Jack’, a number of RF-4Cs were retrofitted to carry a GD HIAC-1 LOROP 66 inch focal length, long-range, oblique photographic, high-acuity camera, built originally for the RB-57F, in an extended nose. The RF-4C carried this camera system housed inside a large G-139 pod on the centerline station.. Several RF-4C equipped with the LOROP camera flew reconnaissance missions along the North Korean and Eastern European borders. Twenty-four RF-4C’s were also fitted with the CAI KS-127A or KS-127F LOROP camera with a 66inch focal length.
The aircraft carried no offensive armament, although some later aircraft were fitted with AIM-9 Sidewinders for self-defence. As a secondary role some aircraft were equipped with the AJB-7 low altitude bombing system and were capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.
Two RF-4Cs were loaned to Israel between 1970-71. Twelve aircraft were transferred to Korea in 1989.
The RF-4C saw extensive service with the USAF throughout the conflict in South East Asia. Seven aircraft were lost to SAMs, sixty-five to AAA or small arms fire, four were destroyed on the ground and seven were lost in accidents. A total of 503 RF-4Cs were produced, of which 499 were for the USAF, the last being delivered in 1973. RF-4Cs served in Desert Storm where one was lost in an operational accident. The type was eventually withdrawn from service with the Nevada ANG in Sept 1995. Twelve aircraft were later transferred to the Spanish Air Force. Korea and Spain still operate this outstanding reconnaissance aircraft.
The RF-4E was designed strictly for export and never served with the USAF. The aircraft combined the reconnaissance systems of the RF-4C with the latest J79-GE-17 engines and much of the airframe of the unslatted F-4E. The West Germany Luftwaffe was the biggest customer for this aircraft ordering a total of 88 the first aircraft entered service in Jan 1971. Under the ‘Peace Trout’ programme one Luftwaffe RF-4E was fitted with a special ELINT system based on the APR-39. In 1978 the Luftwaffe RF-5E’s were fitted with hard points and an MBB weapons delivery system allowing them to deliver six cluster bombs or up to 5000lbs of ordnance. The Luftwaffe RF-4E’s were eventually replaced in 1993/4 by the Tornado. Several Luftwaffe aircraft were eventually sold to Greece. RF-4Es were also sold to Israel where a total of 12 were delivered between 1971-6, these aircraft have been repeatedly upgraded and are now equipped with home-built systems and can carry a variety of air-to-air missiles. Iran brought 27 RF-4E aircraft from 1971 onwards, but with the fall of the Shah, the final 11 were cancelled few, if any, aircraft remain serviceable. Greece brought eight new RF-4Es and acquired a number of others from Germany at least 2 have been lost in accidents. Finally, Turkey brought eight RF-4Es, the first being delivered in 1978.
F-4M / FGR Mk2
F4 with recce pod
The RAF purchased 118 F-4 Phantoms intend initially as a replacement for the Hawker Hunter and Canberra in the fighter, ground attack and reconnaissance roles. The US designation for these aircraft was F-4M, the RAF used FGR Mk2. Like the versions of the F-4 acquired for the Royal Navy, the F-4M was powered by a pair of re-heated Spey 202/203 turbofan engines. The tactical reconnaissance role was conducted by 2 Sqn based at Laarbruch in West Germany and 41 Sqn at Coningsby, Lincs. In this role the aircraft were fitted with a purpose built reconnaissance pod made by EMI which was housed on the centreline pylon. The pod contained a variety of cameras, infrared linescan and SLAR.
Production of the RF-101, the worlds first supersonic photo-reconnaissance aircraft, began in 1956. The aircraft was a development of the F-101 Voodoo fighter which was designed initially as a long-range fighter to escort bombers. Eventually 166 RF-101s were produced and these aircraft saw action over Cuba, during the missile crisis, and most notably in South East Asia. Production ended in 1961 after nearly 800 versions of the F-101 had been produced.
The MiG-21, known by the NATO reporting name Fishbed, was originally designed back in the mid 1950s as a result of experience gained in the Korean War. The aircraft was planned as a lightweight, day fighter with good transonic and supersonic handling, high rate of climb and minimum size. The aircrafts simple design also encouraged easy construction and maintainability, using a turbojet of medium power.
The early versions of the MiG-21 were day fighters with fairly restricted range, were relatively lightly armed and were equipped with limited avionics. As the aircraft was developed over the years the endurance, avionics and weapons load were improved and increased, turning the aircraft into an all-weather, multi-role fighter.
Over 8000 MiG-21 were eventually built by various countries and this aircraft has served with more nations and fought in more wars than any other fighter.
MiG-21R 8501 of 21 Sqn EAF
The reconnaissance versions of the MiG-21 are known as the MiG-21R and MiG-21RF. The MiG-21R, or Fishbed H, was based on the MiG-21PFM (Fishbed J) and carried on the centreline pylon the Soviet reconnaissance pod Type D housing forward looking or oblique cameras, infra-red sensors or ECM equipment. Additional ECM equipment was carried in the fuselage and within wingtip fairings.
After the disasterous Six Day War in 1967, the Egyptain Air Force was re-equipped by Russia with the new MiG-21PFS and recognised that they lacked a reconnaissance capability. The British Vinten company supplied Egypt with a number of long-range oblique photographic reconnaissance pods who's dimensions were based on the MiG-21's centreline auxiliary fuel tank. These new pods were used by Egyptain MiG-21s and Su-7s from the start of 1968.
The MiG-21RF, also known as Fishbed H, was generally similar to the MiG-21R but was based on the MiG-21MF and is powered by an uprated Tumansky R-13-300 turbojet engine. These aircraft began entering service from the mid-1970s. The centreline reconnaissance pod could carry optical or TV cameras, infra-red sensors or a SLAR.
The aircraft were supplied to various Soviet units operating as tactical reconnaissance squadrons - all these aircraft have now been withdrawn from service. The type saw considerable service in the Afghan War with the 263rd Independent Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flying from Kabul. Fifteen aircraft were subsequently 'loaned' to the Afghan Air Force, but are no longer in service. Czechoslovakia obtained around 40 Fishbed H's and operated them in two regiments, it is understood that these aircraft have now been withdrawn from service.
Poland are believed to be the only country still operating the Fishbed H having acquired around 35 aircraft, although given the age of the aircraft, their days must be numbered.
Following the decision of the US Congress on 31 Jul 1960 to fund the development of the North American XB-70 Valkyrie, the USSR realised they lacked an interceptor capable attacking an aircraft designed to fly at Mach 3 between 70 - 80,000 ft. The MiG-25 Foxbat was originally designed in response to this future threat with a planned capablility of Mach 3.2 at 80,000ft and the prototype Ye-266 first flew in April 1965. Production of the Foxbat-A fighter began in 1969 and the aircraft eventually entered service in 1973.
MiG-25 B & D
It was obvious to MiG that the 40 ton Foxbat would make an excellent reconnaissance platform and a specilised reconnaissance version was developed in tandem with the fighter version. Over 200 reconnaissance version of the Foxbat were built between 1969-77 in a number of varients. The MiG-25RB was a dual role reconnaissance / bomber capable of dropping weapons from high altitude at supersonic speeds and this version was developed into the MiG-25RBS, the MiG-25RBSh and the MiG-25RBV. These varients are generally referred to as Foxbat-B's and are equipped with a SLAR, one vertical and four oblique cameras. The first dedicated radar recce version of the Foxbat was the MiG-25RBK and along with the ELINT version, the MiG-25RBF, these version are generally referred to as Foxbat-D's.
Four Foxbat-B's, along with Soviet pilots and technicians, were 'detached' to a couple of friendly countries - Algeria and Vietnam. The first actual exports occurred in 1982 when eight Foxbat-B's were sold to India, these aircraft are operated by a special flight of 106 Sqn at Uttar Pradesh airbase and are usually targeted against Pakistan. Foxbat-B's have also been supplied to Iraq, Syria, Libya and Syria.
The MiG-25B's were operated from Syria bases from late 1975, initially with Soviet pilots and ground crew. On 13 Feb 81 two Israeli RF-4F’s flew a high-altitude reconnaissance mission over the Lebanon designed to lure the Syrian Foxbat’s into the air. However, as the two Syrian Foxbat’s climbed towards the RF-4F’s, they withdrew at high speed dispensing chaff and jamming the Foxbat’s radar with their ECM pods. As the Syrian pilots attempted to catch the Israeli aircraft, the trap was sprung. Two Israeli F-15A’s were directed onto the Foxbat’s either by ground radar or by a patrolling E-2C Hawkeye and fired AIM-7F Sparrow missiles at the aircraft. One Foxbat was destroyed but one managed to escape. The Israeli’s repeated this ‘entrapment’ on 29 Jul 81 and destroyed another Syrian Foxbat. On 31 Aug 83 another Syrian Foxbat was damaged by a specially modified Israeli Hawk SAM and subsequently dispatched by an F-15A.
Soviet Foxbats overflew Iran from the Caspian Sea at 65,000ft and Mach 2.5 to photograph the Iranian Air base at Khatami near Isfahan where the new Iranian F-14 Tomcats were based. However, this activity ceased once the aircraft became operational as they were quite capable of sucessfully attacking the aircraft with the Hughes Pheonix missile. Iraq used Foxbats on recce sorties during the war with Iran. Libya used Foxbats over Chad and Tunisia, these aircraft operated from the Okba Ben Nafi airfield (formally the US Wheelus airbase)
MiG-25B camera bay
The semi-mythical status of the Foxbat rather dissolved when Victor Belenko defected with his Foxbat-A to Hakodate airport in Japan. Close examination of the aircraft revealed it to be fairly crudely built by western standards, have a prodigious thirst for fuel and fairly primitive avonics. Although capable of Mach 3, the aircraft could barely manoeuver at high speed and, more significantly, the two Tumanskii R-15BD turbojets needed a major overhaul after such a flight.
It is understood that in May 1997 an Indian Air Force MiG-25RB overflew Pakistan. The aircraft entered Pakinstani airspace sub-sonically at around 65,000ft and was undetected. Then having overflown and photographed strategic installations near the capital, Islamabad, the Indian MiG-25 aircraft turned back towards India. Perhaps to rub Pakistani’s noses in it, the Foxbat pilot decided to accelerate up to Mach 2 and dropped a large sonic boom as he exited Pakistani airspace. A number of Pakistani F-16As were scrambled, but had insufficient time to make an effective intercept. In 1991, India and Pakistan signed the ‘Prevention of Airspace Violations’ agreement, but as is so often the case with international agreements, when it suits one side to ignore them, then that’s exactly what they do.
However, the day of the Foxbat is drawing to a close and only around 15 remain in service with Russia, the majority of these aircraft are the MiG-25RBSh Foxbat-D's, equipped with the Shampol (Ramrod) SLAR. India is also in the process of retiring their Foxbats. The most numerous users are now various Arab countries such as Algeria, Syria and Iraq, although given the very poor standard of aircraft maintenance and spares support that generally occurs in these countries, how many actually remain in service is anyones guess.
Iraqi MiG-25 unearthed
In Gulf War II, the Iraqi Air Force decided to hide a number of their aircraft, including MiG-25Rs, by burying them under tons of sand. A number of MiG-25s have already been unearthed at Al-Taqqadum airfield west of Baghdad - a sad end for these magnificent aircraft. I hope an example of this legendary aircraft eventually finds its way into an aviation museum in the USA.
The original version of the M-4, known as the Bison-A, was the first operational four-jet bomber produced by the Soviet Union and was intended to carry only free-fall nuclear and conventional weapons.
However, the Bison proved a disappointment as a bomber and the turboprop Tu-95 Bear soon took on this role. Many of the original bomber versions of the Bison-A were converted to a maritime reconnaissance role as either Bison-B or Bison-C.
Both types were equipped with a large radar, cameras and SIGINT equipment
The Myasishchev M-17, known as the Mystic or RAM-M, was originally designed in the mid-1950's as a high altitude interceptor, but rather than intercept aircraft, the M-17 was intended to intercept the high altitude reconnaissance balloons the USA were then launching over Russia and shoot them down with a dorsal gun turret.
However, the when the US reconnaissance balloon programme ended, the development of the M-17 continued very slowly, but now as a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. The design finally evolved into a single seat aircraft with a long, non-swept, high aspect ratio wing and a distinct twin-boom tail.
A single RKBM Rybinsk RD-36-51V turbojet developing 15,430 lbs of thrust powered the first two prototypes, known as Mystic-A's which first flew in 1978. The Mystic-A was then developed into the Mystic-B or M-17. The M-17 can carry a variety of cameras and other sensors housed in a large compartment in the lower fuselage. Endurance is believed to be around 6 hours with a service ceiling of 65,000ft and a maximum speed of around 450mph.
M-55/M-17RM Mystic RA 55204
A further development of the M-17 is the M-55, which is powered by two Aviadvigatel PS-30V12 turbojets, and was given the military designation of M-17RM following the maiden flight of the prototype on 16 Aug 88. Only four M-55/M-17RM were built and in 1990 one aircraft (RA 55204) was converted into a high-altitude ecological monitoring aircraft, however, the other three aircraft have been lost in accidents.
The surviving prototype M-17RM has been based at the Russian Air Force test centre at Akhtubinsk for some time whilst engaged in unspecified equipment trials. The Russian Air Force have had an uncompleted requirement for a battlefield surveillance and strike/reconnaissance aircraft equipped with a SLAR, similar to the abandoned US Precision Location Strike System (PLSS), and it is believed the M-17RM has been engaged in trials of equipment for this role.
Myasishchev also have an upgraded version of the M-55 on the drawing boards. The aircraft is known as the M-55-1 and will probably be roughly the same size and layout as the M-55, but will have a higher take-off weight allowing the carriage of much more equipment. Myasishchev are also believed to be continuing work on a new high altitude reconaissance platform known as the M-60.
M-55/M-17RM Mystic 01552
It is unlikely that either of these surviving aircraft have ever engaged in operational military reconnaissance activity and no photograph has ever appeared of the aircraft in a military configuration. However, the Russian Ministry of Defence has recently placed an order for a single M-17RM, allowing Myasishchev to complete one of the two M-17RM airframes which have been lying unfinished in their Smolensk factory since 1994. In addition, Russia has also proposed to India a military/technical co-operation programme to develop the Myasishchev M-55RTR, a high altitude ELINT version of the Mystic - the cost of around $150 million would be paid entirely by the Indians. Other versions of the Mystic have been proposed and it is even rumoured that the Israelies might be in the market for a specialised version of this aircraft. However, as the M-17RM lacks the capability to operate above 70,000ft, is currently equipped with limited modern avionics and has no discernable 'stealth' characteristics, it would be vulnerable to most modern fighter aircraft or AA missiles and will probably be restricted to a 'stand-off' rather than an 'overflight' role. Some commentators have compared these fairly primitive aircraft to the U-2R, but in reality they are years behind in performance, avionics and, most importantly, reconnaissance capability.
The North American AJ-2P Savage began life as an unusual aircraft designed for an unusual task - to take off from an aircraft carrier with a nuclear bomb and then drop it in level flight from high altitude. As an alternative, the aircraft was designed to deliver 10,500 lbs of conventional bombs. For this task North American designed a high-wing, three crew, attack bomber powered by two 2,300 hp R-2800-44W Double Wasp reciprocating engines with internal, single-speed, engine driven turbo superchargers, plus one 4,600 lb static thrust centrifugal flow J33-A-10 turbojet located in the rear end of the fuselage.
The original 55 AJ-I Savage's proved to be an unsatisfactory carrier borne nuclear bomber. The aircraft only had a range of 1500 nms when carrying a Mk15 nuclear weapon and the aircraft's top speed of 449 mph made it vunerable to interception by the new generation of jet fighters that were just starting to appear. In addition, the Savage had numerous other problems including weak hydraulic systems, poor engine-out handling characteristics and a complicated wing folding procedure which required the external installation of of hinges and actuators.
The final 30 Savage's built were AJ-2P specialist reconnaissance versions which had improved engines and greater fuel capacity. These aircraft were equipped with numerous vertical and oblique cameras and were the last version of the Savage to remain in service with the US Navy. The Savage was phased out of service after a relatively short career and was replaced by the Douglas A3 Skywarrior.
The A3J Vigilante was originally developed as a replacement for the Douglas A3D Skywarrior bomber. Designed as a delivery system for nuclear weapons, the Vigilante contained an unusual and unique bomb delivery system in which the weapons was ejected from a linear bomb bay tunnel situated at the rear of the aircraft, between the engines. However, despite persistent attempts to develop the system, the linear bomb bay concept was never perfected and the tunnel was eventually used to house additional fuel cells. The final blow to the A3J was the decision for the US Navy to relinquish its carrier-borne nuclear strike role. Eventually on 29 Apr 62, after 18 A3J-2 Vigilante’s had been completed, it was announced that the remaining Vigilante’s would be built as dedicated reconnaissance aircraft and given the designation RA-5C – eventually a total of 79 aircraft were delivered. In addition, a number of A3J bombers were converted to RA-5C standard and around 140 Vigilante aircraft operated in the reconnaissance role.
Vigilante from the front
The majority of the intelligence gathering sensors on the Vigilante were housed in a long removable fairing or ‘canoe’ under the centre of the fuselage. A mixture of optical and electronic devices allocated to ‘stations’ located in the ‘canoe’, in the fuselage or under the wing. Nine different modular packages were available, configurations varying according to mission requirements. Ten stations existed, generally numbered in sequence from the front of the ‘canoe’ – three were set aside for optical equipment. Station 1, in the nose, housed a forward oblique KA-51A or KA-51B serial frame camera for daylight use only. To the rear was Station 2 which contained an azimuth/vertical serial frame camera, the type of camera varied according to whether it was intended for use by day or night. Station 3 contained AN/AQL-61 passive electronic countermeasures equipment (PECM) as did Station 3A at the rear of the ‘canoe’. Station 4, in the centre of the ‘canoe’ was dedicated to optical equipment and could be used by one of three identically shaped modules. These modules included right and left oblique serial frame cameras for daytime work, a pair of panoramic cameras, two stabilised serial frame cameras for use by day or night or two serial frame cameras in split-vertical configuration. Station 9 was the inborad wing pylons and these could be equipped with pods dispensing ‘flash bombs’ to allow night photography. Additional electronice equipment was located at Stations 5 & 6. The former fuselage space directly above Station 4 housed electronics associated with the reconnaissance equipment, including a camera control unit, a recorder amplifier and a data converter as well as a couple of receivers. Also in the fuselage to the rear of Station 5 was Station 6 which contained PECM canisters. Finally, Station 7 was a small blister on the rear of the ‘canoe’ which housed the AN/AAS-21 infra-red mapping radar and Station 8 which comprised the main body of the rear half of the ‘canoe’ and contained an AN/APD-7 side looking airborne radar (SLAR).
Vigilante landing on
The multitude of sensors mounted on the RA-5C meant that it only needed to make a single pass over a target at supersonic speed at high or low level with all sensors running in order to acquire continuous full-spectrum PECM, IR, SLAR and optical intelligence. Associated on-board equipment also added a matrix data block displaying data detailing the geographical location and time, allowing easier and quicker subsequent correlation and analysis by intelligence specialists.
The RA-5C saw considerable active service during the Vietnam War where, alongside the RF-8A Crusader, the aircraft provided the USN with its main reconnaissance capability. Over Vietnam the RA-5C was mainly used to provide pre-strike and post- strike reconnaissance. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take the Vietcong AAA gunners long to realise that, following a raid, a Vigilante or Crusader would appear all alone to take photographs of the damage inflicted and they could then give this unfortunate aircraft their undivided attention. At least 23 RA-5C’s were lost during the course of the Vietnam War, 18 were combat losses with 11 confirmed losses to AAA. The SAM threat was less successful with only 2 aircraft falling victim to SA-2 Guideline missiles. Two other Vigilante’s were also lost to ground fire, but whether it was a SAM or AAA could not be determined. One RA-5C was lost in an air-to-air encounter with an Atoll-armed MiG-21. Two other aircraft were lost to unknown causes.
The end of the Vietnam War saw the gradual retirement of the RA-5C from operational service. Between 1975 and 1979 the surviving RA-5C’s were retired, the squadrons operating them were dis-established and on 7 Jan 80 Reconnaissance Attack Wing One, responsible for the final Vigilante fleet, eventually disbanded marking the end of the Vigilante era.
The North American B-45 was the first four engined jet bomber to fly operationally for the USAF, went on to serve in the US, England and Japan and even saw operational service in the Korean War. However, surprisingly little has been written about this significant aircraft and it's only relatively recently that the full story of the Op Jiu Jitsu using RB-45C's from RAF Sculthorpe, has finally emerged into the public domain.
The first of 142 of the B-45's eventually delivered to the USAF arrived on in May 1949. The first models delivered were the bomber version, but the capability of the design for reconnaissance duties was immediately recognised. The reconnaissance version of the aircraft was given the designation RB-45C and first flew in Apr 1950 and the first of 33 aircraft were delivered to SAC a month later.
The transparent nose in the bomber version was completely fared over and equipped with a forward oblique camera. The four General Electric J-47-GE-13/15 engines were equipped with water injection for increased take-off performance. Two droppable 1200 gallon wing tip fuel tanks and additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay gave a total fuel capacity of 8133 gallons and increased the aircraft's range to 2540 miles. The RB-45C was the first jet bomber capable of being refuelled in-flight and to demonstrate this capability, Maj Lou Carrington and his crew of the 91st Reconnaissance Wing flew from Alaska to Japan in 9hrs 50mins, winning the MacKay Trophy for their achievement.
The RB-45C could carry cameras in four locations - four at the vertical position in the rear fuselage four at the split vertical station, one tri-metrogen K-17C camera mounted on a pallet just aft of the wing trailing edge and one camera in the nose. The normal crew was four - pilot, co-pilot/radio operator, tail gunner and photo navigator.
The RB-45C served with the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron during the Korean War, replacing RB-29s in the autumn of 1950 when they had become increasingly vunerable to the MiG-15. Flying daylight missions, the RB-45Cs were able to sucessfully evade the MiGs for a number of months, but eventually, after one aircraft had a narrow escape in Apr 1951, they were always escorted by fighters. Following another narrow escape in Nov 1951, the RB-45Cs were switched to night operations and a number of aircraft were painted black. Nevertheless, some overflights still continued. On the night of 17/18 Dec 52, Capt Howards S (Sam) Myers Jr and his crew flew an RB-45C number 8027 near Vladivostok, before continuing on a further 300 miles to targets of interest in the area of Harbin, Manchuria where radar-scope photographs of airfields and other militray targets were taken, before the aircraft returned to Yokota in Japan.
However, the RB-45Cs were not particularly suited to night photographic operations using flash bombs and were eventually withdrawn from the Korean conflict. However, the RB-45C was still engaged in clandestine operations elsewhere. In March 1955 three RB-45Cs led by Maj John Anderson took off from RAF Sculthorpe and overflew Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Baltic states, taking radar-scope photographs of Soviet military installations. Soviet fighters were scrambled, but failed to intercept the RB-45Cs which all eventually landed safely in West Germany.
The RB-45Cs were replaced by the RB-47 from the late 1950s onwards and the last aircraft was retired from active service in 1959.
Probably the least known reconnaissance aircraft of the Cold War was the North American RF-100A, nicknamed the ‘Slick Chick’. In the early 1950’s, before the development of the U2, it had become very apparent to CIA and USAF intelligence chiefs that they lacked an aircraft with the capability to make long-range reconnaissance sorties over the Soviet Block. As an interim solution, in late 1953 North American Aviation was asked to make a six-aircraft proposal, which would offer the reconnaissance ability required until the U-2 arrived in service.
The five requirements laid down for the aircraft were relatively straightforward:
With only 3 weeks to respond to this proposal, North American decided see if it would be possible to adapt the F-100A Super Sabre fighter, which was just entering service, to meet the specified requirements. As the aircraft would rely on speed and altitude for defence, all non-essential equipment was removed, including the four M-39E cannons and associated equipment. Finding a neat solution to housing the cameras in the time available was impossible and the solution was provided by adding long fairings either side of the nose undercarriage bay. An additional 12-inch extension was added to each wing tip to meet the altitude requirement. However, to operate safely at high altitude the pilot needed to wear a pressure suit and this resulted in changes to the cockpit and oxygen system. The carriage of 2 additional drop tanks, inboard of the normal drop tanks, resolved the range requirement.
The USAF accepted the North American proposal and awarded a contract which required delivery of the aircraft within 6 months. Six new F-100As, Serial Numbers AF53-1545 to 8, AF53-1551 and AF53-1554 taken straight from the production line and modified. Later on, one further F-100A Serial Number 52-5760, was also modified for reconnaissance duties but with a far ‘tidier’ camera installation. The tight timescale resulted in some fairly basic engineering solutions being used, particularly in the installation of the cameras. Nevertheless, by working almost around the clock, the aircraft were ready on time. Initial tests flights showed that the camera installation had not allowed sufficient clearance for the shock/vibration isolation system, but with insufficient time available to explore a more elegant solution, it was decided to fit solid spacers and hope.
In mid-1955, after successful competition of flight tests, the six aircraft were sent to Europe, using various bases in Germany (Hahn) and Turkey. The over-flight operations these aircraft conducted are still classified, however, one details of one particular flight have leaked out. On this sortie the pilot took off from a base in Turkey (Incirlick?) to photograph a rocket base deep inside Russia (Kapustin Yar?). The RF-100A was quickly picked up by Soviet radar and, as the target was at the extreme range of the aircraft, the pilot had no option but to fly a virtually straight track – as a consequence the Soviets soon determined the intended target. Throughout the mission, the pilot was faced with the unnerving spectacle of a never-ending stream of Russian fighters attempting to bring down the RF-100A by firing a variety of machine-guns, cannons and missiles at the aircraft. To compound the pilots problems, his heavy fuel load and four drop tanks allowed only very limited evasive manoeuvring. Thanks to poor Soviet gunnery, inadequate planning by the Soviet Fighter Controllers and a fair slice of luck, the pilot reached the target and took the required photographs. However, his problems were far from over, as the target was at the extreme limits of the aircraft’s range and no other airfields were available, he had no choice but to reverse course and retrace his route. The pilot made it back to Turkey, but with virtually empty tanks having kept the aircraft in continuous afterburner for over half an hour as he shot past some extremely agitated Russians – as the RF-100A was officially limited to just a few minutes of afterburner, this effectively destroyed the entire aft fuselage!
As far as it can be established, none of the ‘Slick Chicks’ were lost over Russia, however 2 aircraft were lost due to flying accidents. Since it was only a matter of time before a ‘Slick Chick’ was lost on an overflight and the U-2 was not quite ready, a modified version of the British Canberra, the RB-57D/F took over intelligence gathering duties from the RF-100A, before they were eventually replaced by the U-2. In 1958 the four surviving RF-100A’s were transferred to Taiwan where they undertook reconnaissance sorties over mainland China – no details of these sorties have been released. The final resting place of the seven RF-100A ‘Slick Chick’s’ is unknown, however, as the US Government maintained such a close veil of secrecy over these aircraft for so long, it is most likely they were broken up. It is a great pity that at least one aircraft was not preserved as they were unique aircraft with some interesting stories to tell!
The individual aircraft service histories are as follows:
The success of the F-86 Sabre in numerous engagements with MiG-15’s flown by Russian and North Korean pilots during the Korean War is well known. Much less well known are the activities of the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron which was part of the 67th Tactical reconnaissance Wing based at Kimpo Air Base.
Early in the war the wing was operating a mixture of RB-26C Invaders, RF-51D Mustangs and RF-80A Shooting Stars and whilst these aircraft all performed creditably in the difficult circumstances, what was needed was a newer aircraft with increased performance. A recce version of the F-86 was the obvious solution, but the F-86’s coming off the production line were needed for air-to-air operations, consequently, all requests to higher authority for an RF-86 were rejected. Undaunted 3 officers from the 15th TRS (Maj Bruce Fish, Maj Ruffin Garay and Capt Joe Daley) obtained a scrap nose section of an F-86A and demonstrated how a single camera could be installed by removing two of the aircraft’s six Browning 50-cal machine guns. Now the project was shown to be feasible, the Commanding Officer of the 67th TRW, Col Edwin ‘Chick’ Chickering persuaded FEAF to release two high-hour F086As to be modified for reconnaissance duties.
RF-86A 48-217 'Honeybucket'
This initial project was called ‘Honeybucket’, after the twin bucket container Korean farmers used to carry human waste to their fields to use as fertiliser. The two F-86As (48-187 & 48-217) were modified at Tachikawa in Japan and each was equipped with a single high-speed K-25 bomb-scoring camera mounted horizontally in the right gun bay, shooting into an angular mirror assembly through a single camera port under the right ammunition bay. One single cannon on the starboard side and all the port side cannons remained and operated as usual. These two aircraft began operations from Kimpo in Dec 1951.
RF-86A 48-196 'Ashtray'
The success of the two ‘Honeybucket’ RF-86 Sabres convinced FEAF that additional aircraft were required. Consequently, project ‘Ashtray’ began when a further 10 ageing F-86As were selected for conversion into reconnaissance aircraft. However, the ‘Ashtray’ RF-86 aircraft were configured differently to the original ‘Honeybucket’ Sabres. Some ‘Ashtray’ RF-86As, but not all, dispensed with the fighters APG-30 gunsight radar in the nose and the two lower guns. They were equipped with a 36-in focal length forward oblique camera that took photos through a pair of small doors that opened and closed like the floor ashtrays of cars in that era – hence the name. The ‘Ashtray’ aircraft were also equipped with a 6-in focal length camera vertical camera in the lower fuselage, located halfway between the nose gear and the main gear. The large size of the K-9 cameras resulted in a large fairing being fitted over the modified ammunition bay area, giving the ‘Ashtray’ aircraft very distinctive cheeks. The two ‘Honeybucket’ aircraft were upgraded to ‘Ashtray’ standard by equipping them with two horizontal K-9 cameras with a new mirror assembly looking through a pair of camera ports on the underside of the nose.
RF-86F 52-5330 'Haymaker'
Towards the end of the Korean War, it was decided to convert three of the more advanced F-86F Sabres in reconnaissance aircraft under project ‘Haymaker’. The three F-86F aircraft (52-4330, 52-4357 & 52-4529) were converted at Tsuiki in Japan. The ‘Haymaker’ RF-86F aircraft had a horizontal K-14 camera, in place of the K-9 camera, which shot through a mirror complex with an aperture underneath the fuselage. Two downward K-14 cameras were also installed and the underside of the forward fuselage was again bulged to cover the camera installation.
RF-86F camera layout'
As a result of the success of the Haymaker RF-86F’s, North American began to actually manufacture new RF-86F’s. These aircraft were equipped with a pair of faster vertically mounted K-22 split-vertical cameras. These cameras straddled a K-17 vertical dicing camera. The increased size of the cameras and the film magazines resulted in a noticeable bulge where the gun bay doors had been located. The RF-86Fs were unarmed but had false gun ports painted on their nose.
After the Korean War ended the US Air Force decided to utilise the RF-84F Thunderflash as its standard tactical reconnaissance aircraft. However, Japan, South Korea and Nationalist China continued to operate RF-86Fs. Between 1961 and 1962 Mitsubishi converted 18 F-86’s to RF-86F configuration and these aircraft were operated by the 501st Hikotai at Iruma Air Base where they remained in service until 25 Mar 1977 when they were replaced by RF-4E Phantoms. A number of RF-86Fs ended their days with the District of Columbia Air National Guard and were eventually scrapped in 1958.
The threat from a surprise attack by the Warsaw Pact across the plains of West Germany lead to the development of a new type of aircraft designed to provide battlefield surveillance and detect the warning signs of an impending attack. In West Germany from the 1970’s the US Army operated a number of Grumman OV-1 Mohawk aircraft equipped with a large SLAR, however, these aircraft were limited in range, endurance and the SLAR had a fairly limited capability.
The US Army and the US Air Force recognised the need for a more up-to-date system and initially undertook separate studies to try and identify the most appropriate system. The US Army initially planned the Stand-Off Target Acquisition System (SOTAS) based on the Sikorsky H-60 helicopter, whilst the Air Force and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) were involved in developing an advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Moving Target Indicator (MTI) system known as Pave Mover. Then in 1982 the Army and Air Force programmes were merged and in 1984 published their requirements for a new battlefield surveillance aircraft, named the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (J-STARS).
In 1985 Grumman won a contract to produce two development E-8A prototype J-STARS based on two used Boeing 707-320C aircraft. The development of the new radar was subcontracted to Norden Systems. The first prototype E-8A finally flew in April 1988 without the radar installed and flew with the radar installed on 22 Dec 88. The second J-STARS made its first flight on 31 Aug 89 and later that year both aircraft conducted communication trials and made visits to Europe. The original acquisition plan called for 10 J-STARS aircraft, but in Apr 88 this was increased to 22 aircraft using new Boeing 707 airframes. However, Boeing was planning to close the 707 production line in May 91 and, as a consequence, the cost of each airframe was increasing. Eventually in Nov 89 it was decided to purchase a number of used Boeing 707-300 airframes and convert them into production E-8C J-STARS. In 1990 a contract for a single pre-production E-8C was awarded, this was followed in 1993 by another Low Rate Initial Production contract for five aircraft.
In the 1991 Gulf War it was decided to send the two development E-8As to the Middle East to conduct ‘operational tests’. The two aircraft flew a total of 49 combat missions and even though these aircraft were not up to the standard of the production E-8C they proved extremely useful in detecting and tracking large formations of Iraqi vehicles as they retreated north out of Kuwait. The first production E-8C was delivered in Jun 96 and J-STARS achieved initial operational capability in 1997 with the delivery of the third production aircraft. It was eventually decided that only 17 aircraft would be purchased and the final E-8C J-STARS was delivered in Mar 05. The last seven aircraft were all delivered to the final Block 20 standard, a progressive programme to bring the remaining 10 aircraft up to Block 20 standard configuration is already underway.
E-8C J-STARS radome
Externally the E-8C is little different from the Boeing 707-300 commercial airframe. The only really obvious difference is the 40-foot long canoe shaped radome mounted under the forward fuselage that houses the 24 –foot long APY-3 Norden Systems multi-mode phased array battlefield surveillance radar. The radar antenna is mechanically tiled from side-to-side for elevation scanning, azimuth scanning is performed electronically. The radar can operate in a variety of modes: Wide Area Surveillance / Moving Target Indicator (WAS / MTI) is the primary operating mode and this can detect, locate and identify slow moving vehicles in a target area 200 square miles in size. The radar can differentiate between wheeled and tracked vehicles, has a maritime mode and can also track slow moving helicopters and has a maximum range in excess of 150nms.
Sector Search Mode (SSM) this mode allows the radar to be focussed on a target area 18nms x 18nms, with the radar refreshing the picture every 60 secs.
Attack Planning Mode (APM) this is a high resolution mode where the radar focussed on an area 7nms x 7nms and refreshes the picture every 6 secs.
Synthetic Aperture Radar / Fixed Target Indicator (SAR / FTI) - in SAR/FTI mode the radar can produce a near photographic image of the target area by building up a mosaic of images from multiple radar sweeps. In SAR/FTI mode the radar has a range of about 110 miles to either side of the aircraft from the usual operating height. Using this mode, in a single 8hr sortie an area of 386,000 can be accurately mapped. By using the MTI history alongside SAR/FTI, post attack assessments can be made.
E-8C J-STARS inside
The E-8C J-STARS has a flight crew of four, comprising pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator/self defence suite operator together with a mission crew of 18. The radar data is displayed on up to 17 identical operators consoles, based on the DEC Alpha system, positioned in the middle to rear of the fuselage. A single console is also dedicated to 'defensice systems'. On extended missions an additional 13 replacement crew members can be carried. Both US Air Force and Army personnel are employed as console operators. All aircraft are equipped wwith six bunks and a rest area. All the E-8C aircraft are assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard, based at Robins AFB Georgia and are frequently deployed on operations world-wide.
E-8C J-STARS console
The radar console operators usually interpret the radar data obtained by J-STARS. However, it is also down-linked in near real-time via the secure Cubic Systems Surveillance & Control Data Link (SCDL) to US Army operators located in mobile Common Ground Stations (CGS), enabling Army commanders to access the data and interpret it themselves. In addition, the J-STARS is equipped with SATCOM enabling it to still relay the radar data when out of range of the ground stations. It also has two JTIDS and a Tactical Data Information Link-J (TADIL-J) together with extensive UHF, VHF and SW communications.
To keep costs down when the aircraft were converted into E-8C configuration, it was decided to retain the original four P&W TF33-102C turbofan engines. In retrospect this was a mistake, as these old engines are noisy, dirty and inefficient, and it would have been far better to fit the refurbished aircraft with modern CFM-56 turbofan engines, as fitted to updated KC-135s / RC-135s. The old engines fitted on the J-STARS are really inadequate for full gross weight operations, particularly in hot/high conditions, with the aircraft needing 11,000 ft of runway to take-off and also restrict a fully loaded aircraft to operating at around 30-32,000ft. This lack of engine power impacts on the radars performance – the higher the aircraft can fly, the better the performance of the radar. A higher operating ceiling would also help reduce the effects of ‘terrain masking’, a particular problem in mountainous countries like the Balkans and Afghanistan. However, the USAF does not appear able to fund the CFM-56 engines for the J-STARS, instead it seems more likely that the aircraft will be ‘upgraded’ with refurbished P&W JT8D engines, replacing a 1950’s technology turbojet engine with a 1960’s turbofan engine – an improvement, but not what is really needed.
The entire J-STARS fleet are being progessively upgraded to the Block 20 configuration of the last seven production aircraft in a $40million programme, which has seen new Compaq workstations installed, together with a new General Dynamics radar signall processor and a fibre-optic network. A new open architecture configuration, using two commercial Compaq GS-320 'AlphaServer' processors will allow the aircraft to be upgraded more effectively in the future when new systems are developed. Another development planned for the future is the aircraft’s APY-3 radar benefiting from the $1.3 billion Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Programme (MP-RTIP). Around 2012, the new APY-X two-dimensional electronically scanned active array radar could well replace the current APY-3 radar. In addition, it is also planned to improve the current SAR image resolution with the Enhanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ESAR) and Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) upgrades. Another upgrade programme for the J-STARS is the concept of Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) which will provide templating techniques to identify ground-based targets, using the processed ESAR and ISAR data. The MP-RTIP was originally intended to be installed in the E-10 Multi-Mission Command and Control Aircraft and the RQ-4 Global Hawk rather than the E-8, however, considerable doubts are being raised about the programme cost and appropriate E-10 acquision timescale and this could result in the radar being installed on the E-8. If the upgrade is approved, the first five RTIP equipped would be operational until around 2012.
The E-8C J-STARS has proved its worth in operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Operation Joint Endeavour in 1995, Operation Allied Force in 1999 and Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002. When they entered service the aircraft provided a unique capability, however, new battlefield surveillance aircraft are already planned which will have performance at least comparable with and might possibly even better than that provided by J-STARS. The RAF’s ASTOR R1 and NATO’s AGS programmes will greatly increase the numbers of battlefield surveillance aircraft and I imagine that when these aircraft enter service the E-8 J-STARS fleet will soon be progressively back in the hanger for appropriate engine and radar upgrades, ensuring thry remain at the cutting edge of this vital area of military capability.
Like the F-5 fighter programme, this single-seat tactical fighter/reconnaissance aircraft was funded and developed entirely by Northrop for the export market.
The nose radar is replaced with a forward oblique KS-87D1 frame camera and various sensor pallets. Pallet 1 mounts a KA-95B medium altitude panoramic camera, a KA-56E low-altitude panoramic camera and an RS-710E IR Linescan. Pallet 2 combines a KA-56E camera with a KA-93B6 panoramic camera. Pallet 3 is for LOROP (Long Range Oblique Photo) missions and has a KS-174A camera.
RF-5E from below
First flown in January 1982 the aircraft has been sold to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Taiwan have also operated six RF-5E aircraft since 1997, when they were converted from F-5E's by a Singaporean defence company. The aircraft are operated by the Fourth squadron from Taichung's CCK air base.
In 1966 Britain, Germany and Italy agreed to develop the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) and the aircraft eventually entered service with the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment at RAF Cottesmore in July 1980.
The GR Mk1A was a dedicated reconnaissance variant with the two 27mm Mauser cannons deleted and replaced by three Vinten Linescan infra-red sensors. Nevertheless, the aircraft retained the capability to carry the full range of external stores and conduct offensive sorties. A total of 28 aircraft saw service, 12 were GR1 conversions and 16 were new built, with 2 and 13 Squadrons.
Currently the RAF operates approximately 24 specially equipped Tornado GR4A tactical reconnaissance aircraft from RAF Marham in Norfolk. The aircraft are split equally between two squadrons No II (AC) and XIII. The aircraft differ from the ordinary strike Tornado by the fitting of the Tornado Infra-Red Reconnaissance System (TIRRS). The TIRRS consists of three sensors, a recording facility and various cockpit controls and displays to accommodate the additional equipment both guns were removed from all the aircraft.
Tornado GR4 TREF Cabin
The primary sensor is the Infrared Linescanner (IRLS) fitted under the nose of the aircraft that gives horizon to horizon coverage. On either side of the nose are the Sideways-Looking Infrared (SLIR) sensors which ‘fill-in’ the picture provided by the IRLS. Six video tapes are fitted to the TIRRS, one primary tape for each sensor and one back-up.
On landing the tapes are analysed by the Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (RIC) which is attached to each squadron. The RIC’s are equipped with the Transportable Reconnaissance Exploitation Facility (TREF) which consists of three rugged ‘cabins’ linked together and mounted on standard 4-ton service lorries. The three TREF cabins contain all the equipment needed to analyse and distribute the information gathered by the TIRRS. Cabin One contains two workstations, the ‘Link Cabin’ contains the maintenance equipment and Cabin Three is the Management Cabin containing secure world-wide communications, including satellite communications.
In early 2005 it was reported that that funding for the IRLS system had been withdrawn from 1 Sep 04 and the system had been retired. The RAPTOR (Reconnaisance Pod for Tornado) will now be the main reconnaissance sensor carried by the Tornado GRA4s.
Five Piaggio-Douglas PD-808GE aircraft are operated by the Italian Air Force the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) and are based at Pratica di Mare airbase near Rome. The aircraft are used mainly to train radar operators to operate in an ECM environment but they have a secondary role as ELINT aircraft. However, the ageing equipment is mainly used to support other missions, as well as for providing ESM (Electronic Support Measures) activities.
PD-808GE - final flight
Operating in a passive role the aircraft's sensors can intercept, localise and identify electromagnetic sources, but the low power of the on-board jammers available, prevent the aircraft from actively disrupting enemy transmission.
The final sortie of an AMI PD-808 took place on 17 May 03 at Pratica di Mare and all the aircraft have now been withdrawn from service.
At the Dubai Air Show in Nov 1995, Pilatus unveiled the PC-12 EAGLE, an aircraft, designed to reduce the cost of high-quality surveillance. Cruising at speeds up to 250 KTAS and with an endurance up to eight hours, the PC-12 EAGLE, pressurised for high altitude survey, is certified for operations at 30,000 ft. The 14 ft 9 in long modular sensor payload underbelly pod can house several sensor systems. In addition, the aircraft can be fitted with Infra-Red / Electro-Optic (IR/EO) Sensors, Infrared Line Scanners, Multi-Spectral Sensors and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). The SAR mode provides real time, all weather, high resolution imaging of large surveyed areas enabling operations such as detailed landscape analysis, monitoring of forest and agriculture, classifying trees and assessment of environmental damage. Long-range sensors such as COMINT and ELINT also form part of the EAGLE's payload.
The aircraft can be configured with one to three workstations, depending on system requirement, and an additional seat for an observer/instructor. The consoles provide multi-sensor fusion information and complex graphic overlays combined with digital maps for tactical situation awareness on high-resolution colour LCD monitors.
Pilatus PC-12 Spectre
On 24 July 03 at the annual Airborne Law Enforcement Association meeting, Pilatus Aircraft decided to announce the PC-12 Spectre, a new special mission version of their PC-12 single engine turboprop utility/executive. Designed to operate as a covert multi-mission surveillance aircraft, the Spectre is based on the PC-12/45 airframe.
The Spectre is capable of a 270kt dash capability as well as being able to remain on station for 8 hours. At the rear of the aircraft’s fuselage is a retractable sensor platform which can be fitted with a variety of sensor, such as the FLIR Systems Star Safire II or III Electro-optical/Infra Red system and the multi-sensor Wescam MX-15 system. The pressurised cabin houses an operators station with room for a variety of displays, recorders and radios.
Both the Eagle and Spectre are available to a wide variety of civilian and military operators, equipped to suit specific mission requirements and can offer an impressive capability housed in an unassuming civilian aircraft.
Egypt was the first known operator of the Beech 1900C in the SIGINT role, after ordering 6 aircraft configured for both COMINT and ELINT. The normal crew is 5, consisting of 2 pilots and 3 operators seated along the port side of the cabin.
In 2000 Algeria ordered 6 of the larger 1900D’s to meet a requirement for a Multi Mission Surveillance Aircraft (MMSA). Mounted under the fuselage in a large fairing is the HISAR. The aircraft are also equipped with Sky Guardian ESM and Wescam Type 16 FLIR and it is believed that a SIGINT function will also be added at a later date.
On 13 Apr 79 the South African Prime Minister, P Botha, announced that the Beechcraft C-12A (Super King Air 200) used by the American Ambassador had been used for reconnaissance activity over South Africa. The aircraft (reg: 60167) had been inspected by members of the South African security services who had discovered a hidden 70mm aerial camera under the pilots seat. They removed and developed the film which showed the aircraft had been systematically photographing large areas of South Africa including various sensitive military installations. South Africa expelled 3 American military attaches and demanded an apology from the USA, which was never given. At the time South Africa was suspected of developing a nuclear capability, in concert with Israel, which was later confirmed. Whether other C-12A aircraft, used for carrying out diplomatic duties, have also been involved in clandestine reconnaissance activity is unknown.
Sri Lanka was known to operate a single Raytheon Beech 200T specially converted for SIGINT duties during the governments lengthy struggle with the Tamil Tigers. The modified Beech 200T (CR-842) was operated by the 8th Light Transport squadron based at Ratmalana in the south of Sri Lanka and was used to monitor the hand-held radios and other communication equipment used by the Tamil Tigers. It is believed the aircraft also had a direction finding capability as well as an infra-red camera mounted in a turret under the forward fuselage.
Sri Lankan Beech 200T with HISAR King Air
At the end of 2000 the Sri Lankan government ordered a Raytheon Beech 200 HISAR (Hughes Integrated Surveillance and Reconnaissance System) to further enhance operations against the Tamil Tigers. This aircraft was destroyed during a raid by the Tamil Tigers on the Anuradhapura Air Base on 22 Oct 07.
Beech 200 King Air with Lynx Radar
General Atomics (GA) are currently marketing a Raytheon Beech 200 fitted with its Lynx radar system. The 115lb (52kg) Lynx radar system provides an excellent day/night all-weather reconnaissance, surveillance and target tracking capability for military, civil and commercial customers. The US Army have purchased 3 Lynx radar systems for intsallation on their RC-7B ARL aircraft.
C-12C Beech 200 King Air in Bosina
Following the civil war in the former republic of Yugoslavia, the US Army has formed part of the Stabilisation Forces (SFOR) engaged in the hunt for individuals indicted for war crimes in Bosnia, in particular the notorious Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, both of whom have been sheltered by sympathisers in Bosina since the end of the war. In support of these operations, the US Army Material Command has deployed a modified C-12C Raytheon Beech 200 operated by a joint team of military and civilian contractors. The C-12 carries an extensive range of intelligence gathering equipment, believed to include a GA AN/APY-8 Lynx SAR/MTI radar and a FLIR/EO turret housing a Wescan 14 system. It is believed that the C-12 can transmit data from its various sensors in near real-time to authorities on the ground.
'Recce' King Air
Another aircraft engaged in the on-going operation to bring Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to justice is this ‘civilian’ King Air 200 (N66000), originally brought into service as a C-12C registered as 78-23130 and now operated by the US Army Communications Electronics Command. The aircraft appears to be fitted with a comprehensive sensor installation under the fuselage, including a FLIR day/night camera system, installed by TRW during the aircraft’s stay at their Moffett Field facility in California. During operations in Bosina this aircraft provides reconnaissance and communications facilities to the various SFOR Special Forces units engaged in hunting down the numerous war criminals still at large in this troubled area.
The Beech RC-12D was an adaptation of the business class Super King Air 200B and replaced the earlier version designated as the Beech RU21H. A large number of these aircraft were acquired by the US Army and deployed with various elements of the Army Security Agency (ASA) for battlefield electronic reconnaissance. The aircraft are used for COMINT and D/F duties and are equipped with the fully automated ‘Guardrail V’ system which relays data to ground stations via a data-link. The aircraft also carries an ECM system.
The latest version, the RC-12Q, introduces a satellite relay function between participating ‘Guardrail’ units. Operating as a ‘mother ship’ to surrounding RC-12P aircraft, the RC-12Q receives data from the other aircraft and, together with it’s own data, relays it via satellite to a ground station where operators remotely control the aircraft’s bank of receivers. The ground operators can also uplink flightpath and frequency changes to the aircraft - very little processing is carried out on the aircraft. A crew of 2 pilots flies the aircraft which have frequently been deployed to areas of conflict, such as Kosovo. Around 60 RC-12’s have been delivered to the US Army over the years.
Israel's RC-12D and B200
Israel operates a number of RC-12D’s flown by 191 Tayeset from Sde Dov and uses them to monitor the surrounding Arab states. In the IDF/AF the RC-12D is known as the Kokiya (Cuckoo) and the first aircraft were delivered in 2000 with tip tanks. Another 8 aircraft are on order and the first should be delivered in Nov 2002.
For many years the US Army purchased a number of versions of the Beech King Air / Super King Air /Queen Air series of utility twin-engined aircraft for use in special mission work.
The first was the RC-21A (King Air 100), which had the ARQ-38 ‘Left Jab’ radio direction finding (RDF) system installed. The RC-21 E/H is a military version of Beech Queen Air 80 and was designated as Special Electronic Mission Aircraft (SEMA). These aircraft were operated by 320th ASA (Army Security Agency) Company on behalf on NSA at Ramstein from 1978 and were also operated in South Korea and USA. The aircraft were equipped with Guardrail COMINT/D/F equipment manufactured by Electromagnetic Systems Laboratories of California. The crew consisted of 2 pilots and two system operators at a ground station.
In 1974 the RU-21J began being delivered to the US Army under the Cefly Lancer programme. These aircraft were equipped with the ALQ-150 tactical ESM equipment and were targeted against Warsaw Pact multichannel microwave systems which carried high level trunk communications. They also carried the ALQ-151 (Quick Fix) DF intercept and ECM system and the ALQ-156 Missile Detector System which could evaluate threats and automatically deploy decoys from a M-130 flare dispenser.
In 1996 the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) ordered 4 Raytheon Hawker 800SIG aircraft configured for the SIGINT role under a programme known as Peace Pioneer. It is not known exactly what equipment these aircraft are planned to carry, but given the close ties that exist between the US and South Korean intelligence agencies, the equipment being supplied will probably be similar to some equipment carried by the RC-135 Rivet Joint.
Raytheon Hawker 800 'Peace Krypton' MTI aircraft
Under another programme called Peace Krypton, an additional 4 Raytheon Hawker 800SIG have also been delivered to South Korea fitted with an MTI radar housed in a ventral pod. At least 7 aircraft have already arrived in South Korea for final fitting out by Korean Aircraft Industries in Seoul. The following aircraft serials have been observed: 258-342, 258-343, 258-350, 258-351, 258-352, 258-353 and 258-357. The aircraft are painted in tactical grey with toned-down roundels and serial numbers. It is believed that eventually a total of 10 aircraft will be ordered from Raytheon, with the mission avionics supplied by Goodyear.
The Republic F-84F Thunderstreak was one of the early jet fighters and was built in considerable numbers, originally as a competitor to North American’s F-86 Sabre. Because of tooling difficulties, as a stop-gap measure, the original F-85G had a straight wing, even so over 3000 examples were built. By the autumn of 1952, the first production F-84F was delivered to the USAF as a ground support fighter-bomber and featured a number of significant improvements over the F-84G, including 40 degree swept wings, as well as a swept tail and elevator. Powered by a Wright J65-W-3 turbojet, the F-84 was just supersonic in a dive, could carry 6000lbs of external ordnance and was armed with six 0.50 M3 machine guns - four mounted in the nose and two in the wing roots. Of the 2711 F-84F Thunderstreaks built, 1301 were transferred to NATO countries and the aircraft eventually served with France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, West Germany, Greece and Turkey, becoming the most numerous fighter-bomber aircraft serving with NATO countries throughout the 1950s. The F-84 was also the first single-seat aircraft capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. A number of specially modified Thunderstreaks were designed to be carried underneath modified GRB-36D Peacemakers to act as fighter reconnaissance aircraft, but this idea was soon abandoned.
The RF-84F Thunderflash was a photographic reconnaissance version of the F-84F Thunderstreak and first flew in Feb 1952. The most obvious difference between the two aircraft was the elongated nose area – the Thunderstreak had a nose air intake, whereas the Thunderflash had wing root air intakes, as the nose contained up to 6 cameras. The nose camera bay could contain a variety of cameras in forward facing, trimetrogen, individual oblique and vertical installations.
The RF-84F was one of the first jet aircraft designed specifically for photo-reconnaissance and introduced a number of significant innovations. The RF-84F usually operated with two underwing fuel tanks, which could also carry Photoflash ejectors, making the RF-84F the first aircraft capable of night photo-reconnaissance. It was also the first fighter-reconnaissance aircraft equipped with a vertical viewfinder, which was displayed on the cockpit panel, as well as the first to have a camera control system.
French RF-84F Thunderflash of ER4/33 at Akrotiri
Ten French RF-84F aircraft, from drawn from two escadrilles, the ER1/33 Belfort and ER3/33 Moselle, were known as ER4/33, and together with an additional five RF-84Fs from ER2/33 Savoie, operated from Cyprus in support of the 1956 Anglo-French air assault against the Egyptian forces during Operation Musketeer – the Suez Crisis. These sorties were the only occasions that the RF-84F conducted operational sorties.
The SAAB 340 Cityliner has been a great success as a medium sized turboprop regional airliner, achieving more commercial aircraft sales for the company than any other civil aircraft. Designed in partnership with Fairchild, the SAAB 340 can carry 35 passengers, has a range of 1490km and first flew in Jan 83. The Fairchild version of the aircraft is known as the Fairchild Metro III. An improved version of the aircraft with more powerful engines is designated the SAAB 340B and production of the aircraft eventually ceased in 1999.
SAAB S100 AEW&C Argus
Rather than purchase the expensive Boeing E-3D AWACS, the Swedish Air Force decided to adapt the SAAB 340 to meet their specific AEW&C requirement. Six aircraft were ordered, the first of which flew in 1994. Four of the aircraft are fitted with the Ericsson PS-890 Erieye side looking phased array radar, with 200 solid-state modules mounted in a long narrow, non-rotating, antenna above the fuselage. From its operational altitude of 20,000ft, the Erieye S-band, frequency agile pulse Doppler 3 GHz radar has a range of 300-400km (200+nm) against fighter sized targets, including against clutter and also has a sea surveillance mode. The 'look' angle on each side is about 120 degrees, leaving the two 60 degree sectors of the nose and tail uncovered. One great advantage of using an electronically scanned antenna is that particular sectors containing targets can be scanned frequently, whilst the radar continues to monitor the other sectors. In addition, single sectors of interest can be scanned in different modes at the same time. The aircraft can remain on station 180km from its base for 8 hours. The remaining two aircraft are fitted for, but not with the Erieye radar and are used as transport aircraft until an increased requirement for additional AEW&C aircraft emerges.
SAAB S100 AEW&C Argus
The Argus can be fitted with four multifunction workstations for airborne controllers. However, in service with the Swedish Air Force the aircraft does not carry controllers, instead the onboard automated systems datalinks the information the radar receives to ground stations, which in turn can transmit commands back to the aircraft. In this configuration, the Argus functions as a highly efficient airborne radar and is completely integrated with the Swedish Air Defence system (StriC-90). Delivery of the six aircraft to the Swedish Air Force took place between 1997 and 1999 and the aircraft are operated by F16M at Malmslatt.
SAAB S100 AEW&C Argus operated by Greece
The Hellenic Air Force (Greece) has decided to acquire an AEW&C capability and has selected four Embraer EMB-145 aircraft equipped with the Erieye radar. To train the Greek crews in the operation of the radar, two Swedish Air Force SAAB S100B AEW&C Argus aircraft have been loaned to the HAF pending the arrival of the Embraer EMB-145 aircraft.
The SAAB 35 Draken was developed as a result of a 1949 requirement to develop an indiginous fighter for the Swedish airforce as a replacement for the SAAB J29 Tunnan. The unusual double-delta design first flew on 25 Oct 1955 and was powered by a licensed built version of the RR Avon turbojet.
A dedicated reconnaissance version, designated the S-35E, was equipped with 5 camera's in the nose. The aircraft was sold to a number of different European countries. The Danish reconnaissance version, designated the RF-35, was equipped with a nose camera and often carried the ‘Red Baron’ pod for infra-red photography.
In the late 1940s the SAAB Company responded to a Swedish Air Force initiative to develop a new jet attack aircraft known as the P1150 to replace various propeller driven aircraft. The specifications for the P1150 were very demanding and stated that the new aircraft had to be able to attack a target anywhere along Sweden’s 1245 miles (2000 km) of coastline within one hour of launch from a central location. The aircraft had to be all-weather day/night capable and have an integrated electronics and weapons system. The aircraft’s armament would consist of four 20mm cannon, rockets, bombs and/or a new anti-ship missile then under development and known as the Rb 04. The result was the SAAB J 32 Lansen (Lance) and the first prototype flew in Sep 1952 and the aircraft was powered by a licensed-built version of the Rolls-Royce Avon RA7R engine, designated the RM 5A2.
The first version of the Lansen that was produced was the attack version, designated the A 32A which entered service with the Flygvapnet in 1955 and by 1957 no less than 12 squadrons were equipped with this aircraft and about a quarter of the aircraft were equipped with the French-designed PS-431/A radar. A total of 287 Lansen A 32A aircraft were eventually built and the type remained in service until 1978 when it was replaced by the SAAB 37 Viggen. The next type produced was an all-weather fighter version, the J 32B, which featured an uprated Avon Series 200 engine, designated the RM6A. A total of 118 J32Bs were delivered between 1958-60 and at one stage it equipped seven squadrons.
The final production version of the Lansen was the S 32C, a dedicated maritime and photo reconnaissance version, developed from the original A 32A version and a total of 44 aircraft were delivered between 1958-9. All the aircraft were fitted with the modified PS-432/A radar, optimised for maritime operations and the radar could be photographed to enable the data to be analysed after the sortie. The aircraft could also carry a chaff dispenser and up to twelve 165lb (75kg) photoflashes bombs and were equipped with a radar-warning receiver. Under the fuselage was an egg shaped 600-litre fuel tank that could not be jettisoned.
In the S 32C Lansen the four nose cannons were removed and replaced by a camera bay that could carry up to six cameras, although usually only four were carried. Usually the camera bay carried two SKa 17 short focal length cameras for low-altitude work and two SKa 18 cameras for high-altitude work. Both cameras were made in Britain by Aeronautical and General Instruments of Croydon. The S 32C can usually be identified by the small bulges above and in front of the engine intakes that were necessary for the cameras to fit in the camera bay.
A new camera fit was introduced in 1962 and as these cameras were even larger, the nose bulges had to be increased in size. The new fit included two SKa 23 cameras made by Fairchild, optimised for high altitude work and fitted with a motion compensation system. A single wide-angle SKa 15 camera was fitted ahead of the starboard SKa 23 camera, also for high altitude work. A high altitude camera sight, the Jugner FL 82, was fitted behind the port SKa 23 camera. For low altitude work three SKa 16 cameras could be carried, two either side of the lower front part of the camera bay, with the third in the avionics bay.
All the S 32C Lansen aircraft were based at Reconnaissance Wing F 11 at Nykoping and in a service career lasting 20 years the aircraft achieved over 76,500 flying hours. The aircraft remained in service until 1978 when they were retired and replaced by the SH 37 Viggen – two years later F11 disbanded.
System 37 introduced a complete generation of combat aircraft produced in 5 different versions using a virtually identical airframe.
The SF-37 replaced the S35E Draken and is optimised for over-land reconnaissance. Twenty eight aircraft were delivered between 1977 and 1980, serial numbers 37950-37977. The airframe lacks a radar and carries various cameras in the nose. Three SKa24C-120 cameras provide horizon to horizon coverage. A single SKa 24-57 camera provides wide angle pictures. Two SKa 31-600 cameras are used for high altitude or stand-off photography. The VKA 702 infra-red linescan is also carried. For night photography, the SH37 carries a special pod on the on the fuselage station. The pod is equipped with three SKa 34-75 cameras equipped with IR sensitive film in the front compartment and electronic IR flashes in the rear compartment.
The SH-37 replaced the S32C Lansen and is optimised for maritime reconnaissance - 27 were delivered between 1975 and 1980 - serials 37901-37927. The aircraft have a LM Ericsson Multimode radar in the nose and a single SKa 24D-600 camera semi-permanently mounted on the right fuselage station for photographing what the radar display discovers.
Although a highly capable aircraft, the Viggen failed to attract any export orders and has only ever seen service with the Swedish Armed Forces.
Gradually replacing the RF-35 Viggen in service with the Swedish Air Force, the Gripen is a multi-role fighter/bomber which can also be used for reconnaissance sorties.
Fitted with the Vinten 70C reconnaissance pod the Gripen becomes an integrated Reconnaissance Management System (RMS). Electro-optical sensors store images on digital media allowing a data-link option and near real-time presentation of the image in the cockpit.
With the military crisis in Iraq continuing to degenerate, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is desperate to try and stabilize the volatile situation. One of the most urgent tasks is to ensure that the borders of the country are patrolled by suitably equipped aircraft, to deter the continued influx of terrorists and arms. The CPA recognised their current deficiency in surveillance aircraft and launched a competition to purchase between 8 and 16 surveillance aircraft within an almost impossibly tight timescale.
Seabird Seeker SB7L-360
The specification called for a 2-seater aircraft, equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors that can cruise between 60-80kts over a 5hr mission. To meet this requirement, Schweizer offered their SA 2-37B aircraft, which has a performance very similar to the CPA specification,. However, Schweizer also believed that no company could possibly deliver a sensor equipped aircraft, together with Arabic language training manuals, within 30 days of an order, together with the remaining aircraft within 6 months. Nevertheless, Schweizer remained firm favourites to win the contract, as they were the only American company that had a proven design already flying.
Seabird Seeker SB7L-360
In the event Middle East politics, together with a pragmatic understanding of how acceptable a US aircraft would be conducting this sensitive role, influenced the decision and it was decided to order the Seabird Seeker SB7L-360 to undertake this role. The Seabird Seeker SB7L-360 is the product of a joint Jordanian / Australian venture company established last year at Marka Airport in Amman, Jordan. The original Seeker was designed in Australia back in 1989 and from the outset was planned to be a low-cost observation platform that could offer excellent fixed-wing surveillance capabilities at a much lower cost than a helicopter of similar size. The excellent all-round visibility of the Seeker is accomplished by placing the small de-rated Lycoming 0-360 B2C engine behind the cockpit and above the wing. The Iraqi specification called for a two-seat aircraft, with docile handling characteristics, that was capable of 5 hour sorties whilst carrying electro-optical (EO) and infra-red (IR) cameras whilst providing a live video data link to a ground station.
Seabird Seeker SB7L-360
On 29 Jul 04 at a ceremony in Amman the first two Iraqi Seeker aircraft were handed over to officials, whilst at the same time 8 Iraq pilots and 7 technicians also graduated having completed their training. The first two aircraft, (YI-101 ex JY-SEA and YI-102 ex JY-SEB) will operate from Basra, as the new Aerial Surveillance Squadron, from where they will conduct reconnaissance and surveillance duties to protect oil pipelines and powerlines, as well as border patrols in search of terrorists. The aircraft will be fitted with an advanced EO/IR suite provided by FLIR Systems Inc based on the companies U7500 system, working with a downlink system provided by Broadcast Microwave Services. Currently it is planned that the Aerial Surveillance Squadron will eventually be equipped with a total of 16 aircraft by early 2005 and, rather than being built in Australia, these new aircraft will be built at a new production facility being installed at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport.
In the early 1960’s the RAF began studies to replace the Gnat T1 and Hunter T7 advanced jet trainers and the proposals eventually emerged as Air Staff Target (AST) 362 which also included a secondary role as a light tactical strike aircraft. However, the government of the day, already burdened by the spiralling cost of the TSR-2, was unwilling to fund the project, so at one point it appeared as though the project was unlikely to come to fruition. It was then discovered that the French government were looking for a potential partner to collaborate on a design for an advanced trainer with strike/attack capabilities. The French aircraft was planned to replace their Fouga Magister and Lockheed T-33 in the training role and the Super Mystere B2, Republic F-84F and North American F-100 Super Sabre operated by the Armee de l’Air (AdA) in the strike/attack role. As the aircraft was planned to equip the ‘Ecole de Combat et Appui Tactique’ (School of Combat and Tactical Support) it was known as the ECAT. Dassault and Breguet had both submitted designs in the ECAT competition, eventually won by Breguet with their Br121 design, powered, rather surprisingly for a French design, by twin Rolls Royce RB 172-45 engines. The Br121 design was an update on the BR1001 design that Breguet had originally submitted for an earlier competition for a NATO trainer/light fighter, which was eventually won by the Fiat G-91.
RAF Jaguar XZ362 of II Sqn carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod
The prospect of an Anglo/French collaboration appealed to politicians on both sides of the Channel, particularly for some specific British politicians who were desperate to get Great Britain into the European Common Market at almost any cost. Following discussions between representatives from both countries, a joint provisional specification was announced in March 1964, this was followed by a more detailed specification in October 1964. However, from an early stage in the discussions, it was apparent that there were differences between the partners on the relative importance of the training and strike/attack requirements. Eventually the differences could only be resolved by proposing two collaborations; one version was based on the Br121 design would serve as a trainer for the RAF and a trainer light strike/attack aircraft for the AdA. The other version was a more advanced dedicated swing-wing strike/attack fighter aircraft designed the Anglo French Variable Geometry (AFVG) aircraft.
An RAF Jaguar carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod
On 17 May 1965 Britain and France signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) on the plan to build the ECAT and AFVG. In May 1966, under the management of a new Anglo-French company named ‘Societe Europeanne de Production de l‘Avion Ecol de Combat et Appui Tactique’ or SEPECAT, Breguet Aviation and the British Aircraft Corporation agreed to build the ECAT design. The AFVG was planned to be built by a collaboration between Dassault and BAC but was eventually cancelled, due to an alleged lack of French funds. When the British eventually discovered that the lack of funds was caused by the French transferring funds out of their budget for the AFVG, to fund a purely French Dassault AFVG, they were less than impressed with the honesty of their French colleagues. The new aircraft was formally named the Jaguar in Jun 1965. Under the Anglo French agreement, Breguet would have leadership for the airframe design using the Breguet Br.121 as the baseline design – Rolls Royce would have design leadership on the engine, merging the RR RB.172 design with the Turbomeca T-260 Turmolet design to produce the RR RB172 Adour turbfan with afterburner.
An RAF Jaguar GR1A of II Sqn carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod
However, the waters were soon muddied by none other than Marcel Dassault. He was thoroughly annoyed when Breguet were awarded the ECAT contract, in preference to the Dassault Cavalier design, then when it became evident that the AFVG was unlikely to progress beyond the drawing board and Dassault realised the potential size of the Jaguar contract, he decided to ensure his company had their finger in the pie by taking over Breguet in 1967. However, for Dassault there was a considerable conflict of interest between promoting the success of the Jaguar against a design that Dassault already had on the drawing boards – the Dassault F1. This conflict of interest was a problem that would emerge a number of times in the future and will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
An RAF Jaguar of II Sqn being loaded with the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod
It soon became evident that the British side were unhappy with the fairly modest capability of the Br.121 design, which would only have a payload of 1300lbs. The British, despite originally having a requirement for an advanced trainer, kept insisting on a larger more capable aircraft and, despite some French misgivings about possible delays to the programme, the British suggestions were eventually agreed upon. It was clear at this stage that the conflicting British and French requirements could only be met by building different versions of the basic Jaguar design. On 9 Jan 1968 a second MOU was signed by the French and British governments – the British would take delivery of 110 Jaguar B 2-seat trainers and 90 Jaguar S single seat strike aircraft. The Ada would receive 75 Jaguar E 2-seat advanced trainers and 75 Jaguar A single-seat light attack aircraft. In addition the French Navy would receive 10 Jaguar E trainers and 40 of the carrier capable Jaguar M. The Jaguar M was eventually cancelled in preference to the Dassault Super Etendard.
An RAF Jaguar of II Sqn being loaded with the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod
The four versions of the Jaguar were eventually built on two production lines, one at Warton in England and the other at Colomiers near Toulouse. Production workshare was split 50 : 50, BAC built the wings, intakes, rear fuselage and tail with Dassault building the nose, centre fuselage and landing gear. The Adour engine production was also split 50 : 50 between the Rolls Royce plant in Derby and a Turbomeca plant at Tarnos. The four Jaguar versions first flew between 1968 and 1971 and by 1972 the initial production aircraft were flying. Deliveries of production aircraft commenced in 1973 with the RAF eventually changing their initial plan completely and eventually opted for 165 single-seat GR1\strike aircraft and 38 T2 trainers. The first RAF Jaguar was delivered to 226 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Lossiemouth on 30 May 1973.
An RAF Jaguar carrying the large Jaguar Reconnaissance Pod during GW1
The RAF Jaguars eventually equipped 8 front line squadrons, 14, 17, 20 and 31 sqns all based at Bruggen and II(AC) sqn at Laarbruch in Germany and 6, 41 and 54 sqns at Coltishall in England. The Jaguar was mainly used in the strike/attack role, apart from II(AC) and 41 Sqns who operated the aircraft in the tactical reconnaissance role. In the tactical reconnaissance role the Jaguar was equipped with a dedicated BAC reconnaissance pod, which is described in detail elsewhere. The Jaguar recce pod was eventually replaced by the Vinten VICON 18 Mark 600 LOROP pod, the Vinten GP(1) electro-optical pod, known as the Joint Reconnaissance Pod. As modifications were introduced during the service life of the aircraft, the Jaguar eventually matured into a reliable and capable aircraft. However, in the early years of its service it suffered from under-powered Adour 102 engines and some unreliable avionics; these deficiencies were almost certainly a factor when a number of Jaguars were lost as they flew on a gradual descent into the ground. On a hot summers day on the north German plain, when loaded with the heavy recce pod under the fuselage and two full fuel tanks on the wing pylons, the early Jaguars needed a very long take-off run. In the late 1970’s I can vividly recall watching a II(AC) Sqn Jaguar crossing an overrun RHAG cable (1300ft from the end of an 8,000ft runway and which had been specially lowered for the take-off) with its nose in the air and its wheels still firmly on the terra firma, stubbornly resisting all attempts to fly. The Jaguar finally staggered into the air so close to the end of the runway that it damaged the arrestor barrier lying across the threshold.
An RAF Jaguar carrying Vinten VICON 18 Mark 600 pod
The original RAF strike/attack Jaguars were designated GR1 and in addition to the unreliable Marconi-GEC 920ATC Navigation and Weapons Aiming Sub System (NAVWASS) were eventually equipped with in-flight refuelling probes, a Ferranti AR123231 Laser Rangefinder & Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS) and a Marconi AR181223 RWR. The underpowered Adour 102 engines were replaced as soon as possible with more powerful Adour 104 engines. Then, beginning in 1983, 70 Jaguar GR1s were upgraded to GR1As by replacing the NAVWASS with an improved Ferranti FIN 1064 inertial navigation system. After performing well during Gulf War 1 (GW1), the Jaguar 96 upgrade introduced a MIL-STD 1553B databus, an improved HUD, a flat-panel multi-functional display, a HOTAS system and an improved nav-attack system that integrated the FIN 1064 with a GPS receiver and a terrain comparison subsystem – the updated aircraft were known as Jaguar GR1Bs. The next upgrade, known as Jaguar 97, introduced a larger multi-functional display, further improvements to the navigation system, an NVG compatible cockpit and a Helmet Mounted Sight System (HMSS) – the updated aircraft were then re-designated Jaguar GR3As.
An RAF Jaguar carrying the Joint Reconnaissance Pod
The latest upgrade is to replace the Adour 104 engine with the improved Adour 106 engine. All of the remaining RAF Jaguars are now based at RAF Coltishall which, under the latest round of defence cuts, is scheduled to close in Dec 2006 when the 80+ surviving Jaguars will be retired. From an uncertain and unreliable beginning, the RAF Jaguars have eventually been developed into reliable and capable aircraft - highly regarded by those who fly and maintain them. Nevertheless, even the most biased Jaguar fan would agree that the aircraft is no F-18, but when you consider that the aircraft started out as nothing more than an advanced trainer, it’s surprising and something of a triumph that it’s evolved and been developed as well as it has.
A French Jaguar
The French Jaguars were less capable than the RAF versions, but gained a good reputation for their rugged reliability. French Jaguars were capable of carrying the RP63P reconnaissance pod – a fairly basic converted fuel pod with 1 forward looking and 2 side looking cameras. The French Jaguars also served in GW1 where they flew over 600 sorties without losing any aircraft. The aircraft also flew sorties over the former republic of Yugoslavia during the Bosnia war, but by 2001 all the French Jaguars had been retired. The SEPECAT organisation was keen to sell the Jaguar abroad and even before the RAF and French orders were completed they were actively marketing an export version of the Jaguar, referred to as Jaguar International. However, as mentioned earlier, Dassault were not in the least bit interested in promoting the sale of the Jaguar in preference to the Mirage F1. Consequently, it was left to BAC and then BAe to promote sales of this Anglo French aircraft, that was actually based on an original French design – so much for cross-channel co-operation. Eventually in 1980 BAe obtained from Dassault full rights to export the Jaguar. Nevertheless, wherever BAe subsequently tried to sell the Jaguar International, it was usually in direct opposition to aircraft offered by Dassault and this ‘double-dealing’ undoubtedly left a bitter taste in BAe and the British government about the benefits of any future Anglo-French co-operation. Despite the best efforts of the French, Jaguar International was sold to Ecuador, India, Nigeria and Oman. The Ecuador and Oman Jaguars remain in service; the Nigerian aircraft lasted less than 10 years before being withdrawn from service. India initially acquired some RAF aircraft on loan, before eventually opening their own production line in the HAL factory at Bangalore, assembling kits supplied by SEPECAT but with a considerable local content – a total of around 90 aircraft were eventually built by HAL and many aircraft remain in service.
An RAF Jaguar carrying the Joint Reconnaissance Pod
Aerospace collaboration between Great Britain and France has a somewhat chequered history and often only proceeded beyond preliminary discussions if the British effectively acquiesced to French design requirements. A number of joint projects took place in the 1960’s, most notably Concorde, but probably as a result of their experience with the Jaguar collaboration, it would appear that since then the British have grown weary of French demands and would rather collaborate with the Germans, Italians and Spanish – where a collaborative project is just that and where all the partners also remain committed to future export sales. The Eurofighter Typhoon is the most obvious example of this new collaboration and, although the French were initially involved, when the other partners refused to build a lighter design to suit the unique French requirement for carrier ops, they flounced out of the programme to build the Rafael to suit their specific requirements, but at great expense. Whilst the resulting aircraft is impressive, it is less capable than the Typhoon and has yet to attract any foreign sales.
Now that the European mainland aerospace companies have merged to form EADS, leaving BAe out in the cold, looking towards the US aerospace industry and Boeing in particular for a buy-out, there is no chance of any further collaborative aircraft programmes between just France and Britain. Just how successful the new European collaboration proves to be remains to be seen, neverthelss, the delays and arguments surrounding the planned A400M military transport doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence, but only time will tell.
The Schweizer RU-38B Twin Condor is a twin-engine development of the single engine SA 2-37A and like it’s predecessor it was designed specifically for covert surveillance. The Schweizer company had previously built the SA 2-37A to meet a specific requirement for a quiet reconnaissance aircraft and the RU-38B Twin Condor was developed to meet a need for a larger aircraft designed for the same purpose. The first RU-38B Twin Condor was a re-build of a single engine RG-8A previously operated by the US Coast Guard, the remaining two aircraft were newly built.
Powered by twin turbo-charged Teledyne Continental GIO-550A engines in a pusher-puller configuration, the Twin Condor provided a payload weight of 800lb and a volume capacity of 140 cubic feet, together with a larger, more comfortable crew compartment. To keep noise signature down to an absolute minimum, enhanced mufflers were fitted to the engine exhaust. The front engine exhaust is also piped to flow over the wing, shielding the noise as much as possible from the ground.
The Twin Condor is designed to fly slowly along a coastline at between 1,500 and 2,000ft making it ideally suited for conducting drug enforcement and fishery protection patrols. The rear engine provided redundancy, together with much greater security for the crew during a long surveillance mission and enabled a higher cruise speed to and from the target area. After take-off, once the aircraft was operating in the quiet surveillance mode, the rear engine was shut down and the propeller fully feathered to further reduce the noise. The normal crew was 2 pilots, with the co-pilot also acting as the sensor operator, there was also the option of carrying a dedicated sensor operator sitting behind the pilots seats.
The unusual twin-boom configuration of the Twin Condor allowed the forward end of each boom to house reconnaissance equipment. The port pod contained an AN/APN-215(V) colour radar with search and mapping capabilities, whilst the starboard pod contained an AN/AAQ-15 Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system together with a Low-Light TV system. A comprehensive navigation system, with OMEGA and GPS, together with a wide range of clear and encrypted communications equipment, was also installed on the aircraft. Large payload bays were designed to allow the use of palletised sensors, enabling the aircraft to quickly change roles as required by the mission. These sensors frequently included signals collection and direction finding equipment and gave the aircraft the ability to act as a relay platform.
After development testing in 1988, the aircraft commenced operations with the US Coast Guard in Miami where they were used in support of drug interdiction operations over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The program was later halted in mid-2000 due to problems with aircraft serviceability. The current whereabouts of the 3 aircraft is unknown and I suspect they are still in use, as the payload capability these aircraft provided would still make them a cost-effective surviellance option.
Designed from the outset as a covert day/night surveillance platform, the RG-8A Condor Schweizer SA2-37B does not look like a covert spy plane. However, its sophisticated suite of FLIR, EO and electronic sensors, large payload, long endurance and low acoustic signature, enable this unusual aircraft to provide a comprehensive surveillance capability at relatively low cost.
To enable the Schweizer SA2-37B to operate effectively it was designed to fly quietly, using minimum power to reduce noise and this works so effectively that above 2000ft the aircraft is virtually undetectable from the ground. The reduced acoustic signature was achieved by a clever aerodynamic design which carefully matched the propeller, engines and various sound muffling devices. Powered by a Lycoming T10-540 engine rated at 250hp, in quiet mode the engine can be throttled back to between 1,100 – 1,300 rpm, generating just 65hp which is sufficient to keep the aircraft flying slowly.
The clever aerodynamics and engine efficiency also gives the aircraft an excellent endurance of 12 hours or a radius of operations of 200nmi whilst remaining on station for 7 hours. Generally the aircraft operates below 5000ft, to give the optical sensors the best possible views, but it also has a 24,000ft service ceiling and can undertake high level missions. The SA 2-37B can carry up to 510lb (231kg) of sensors and associated equipment in a 70 cu ft payload bay in the fuselage. The payload bay was designed to accept modular systems enabling different sensors to be changed quickly.
Three Schweizer SA2-37Bs have been operated by the US Coast Guard for a number of years in supporting anti-drug smuggling operations. A further 3 aircraft are believed to be operated by the CIA in support of various clandestine operations and one of these aircraft is believed to have provided support for the Peruvian government on 22 Apr 97, when terrorists seized 72 hostages in the Japanese ambassadors residence in Lima.
Colombian Schweizer SA2-37B
To provide an additional surveillance capability in their continual fight against the narcotics trade, in 1999 the Colombian government placed an order for a single Schweizer SA 2-37B as part of a joint US/Colombian project known as LANAS – Low Acoustic Noise Signature Airborne Surveillance; a further four aircraft were funded directly by the USA . The Colombian aircraft rolled off the production line in 2000, was certified on 7 Jun 00 and given the registration N2601L (c/n0015). The installation of the various sensors took a year and the in late 2001 the aircraft departed for Colombia. The unique capability this aircraft offers has considerably enhanced the ability of the Colombian government in their ongoing battle against the countries cocaine smugglers.
The continuing conflict in Iraq has prompted the US Department of Defence to look at expanding the already considerable surveillance capabilities of US Forces in this theatre of operations. One surveillance programme that has recently been announced is the development of the Constant Hawk airborne surveillance suite, which can in theory be mounted in either a single-engined, fixed wing unmanned vehicle or a piloted aircraft. The Constant Hawk system records and archives sensor data from persistent surveillance systems into a fast retrieval system that allows for imagery of incidents, such as a roadside bomb-blast to be ‘fast rewound’, allowing analysts to backtrack the sequence of events and then detect and identify the culprits.
To carry the Constant Hawk system the US Army decided to convert three Shorts 360-300 Sherpa aircraft. Whilst the Shorts 360-300, or ‘Super Shed’ as it is known in aviation circles, might not seem the most obvious platform for a state-of-the-art surveillance system, it does actually have some advantages. It’s reasonably cheap to operate, is quite rugged, can operate from fairly short strips and doesn’t look in the least bit like a modern military surveillance aircraft. Three aircraft were actually converted, but two of these aircraft collided with each other in Wisconsin, before they could be deployed to Iraq. I imagine that two additional Shorts 36-300 aircraft will be acquired to make up for this loss and will eventually also find there way to Iraq.
Exactly what the Constant Hawk sensors are and where they are mounted isn't clear. however, I imagine they must include a stabilised electro-optical / infra-red sensor turret and probably a small Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), both linked into a comprehensive recording system that is itself data-linked to a ground command centre. The sensor turret and SAR are probably only lowered from within the fuselage when the aircraft is airborne, but this become clearer when more photographs are obtained of the aircraft in operation. The Shorts-360-300 will soon become a familar sight in Iraq, as it orbits over Baghdad, with its sensors busy monitoring the road from the airport to the Green Zone and other routes frequently used by US Forces.
In 1971 the Swedish Air Force purchased two Caravelle's from SAS (SE-DAG and SE-DAI). The aircraft were used for SIGINT duties, mainly in the Baltic, for many years and were easily recognised by a long black ventral pod under the forward fuselage.
These two aircraft were eventually replaced by two Gulfstream IV-SP.
As one of the countries that pioneered aviation, by the end of WW1 the French aviation industry was one of the world leaders, however, by the end of WW2 little remained of their aviation industry – what factories the Allied bomber fleets hadn’t destroyed had been converted to supply armaments in support of the German war effort. Consequently in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, as France struggled to recover from the devastating impact of the damage done to the country, the re-emerging French Air Force (FAF) had no alternative but to look to British and American manufacturers to supply them with new jet aircraft. The French aviation industry was keen to try and re-establish itself and be in a position to supply the FAF with French designed and built aircraft and two government owned companies; SNCASO and SNCASE, were quick to emerge, followed soon after by Dassault and Breguet and others. SNCASO and SNCASE later merged to form Sud Aviation.
In the late 1940s SNCASO began studying a French government requirement for an advanced all-metal jet powered tactical bomber known as the S.O. 4000 project. A couple of half scale models were built and flown to provide some background data for the prototype aircraft, now known as the Vautour. However, the French aircraft engine industry lagged even further behind their airframe manufacturing base and, as a result, the second prototype aircraft was fitted with two under-powered Rolls-Royce Mk 102 Nene jet engines, built under licence by Hispano-Suiza, which resulted in the aircraft that weighted 16,850 empty being dangerously underpowered and unstable. It was obvious that more powerful engines were required before the aircraft could be put into production and gradually more powerful Rolls-Royce R.A.14 Avon, A.S. Sapphire and French ATAR 101B/C/D/E engines began to deliver the necessary thrust required. Nevertheless, although the Vautour had some good features, it does not come out particularly well when compared with a number of similar aircraft produced at around the same time, such as the English Electric Canberra, the Blackburn S.1 Buccaneer and the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior, all of which remained in active service much longer.
Vautour IIN in FAF service
At the end of 1955 the FAF issued an initial order for 480 Vautours II aircraft, split into three difference versions. Rather than just employing the aircraft in the tactical bomber role for which it had been designed, the FAF had by now decided that the Vautour could act as a multi-role aircraft and replace a wide variety of different types currently in service. The 300 Vautour IIA versions were tactical attack aircraft that would replace all the fighter-bombers currently in service. The 40 Vautour IIB aircraft would replace the propeller driven A-26 Douglas Invader and become the FAFs main long-range bomber with both nuclear and conventional capabilities. Finally the 140 Vautour IIN aircraft would replace the Gloucester Meteor N.F.11 night fighters in the all-weather air-defence role, carrying air-to-air guns, rockets and missiles. However, the Americans were keen to try and build up their own jet manufacturing base and offered the FAF 200 North American F-84 Sabres (150 fighter bombers and 50 RF-84F reconnaissance aircraft) and very low prices, which the French government accepted. This sale was later followed the purchase of 100 North American F-100 Super Sabres (88 F-100Ds and 12 F-100Fs) which precluded the need for the French to manufacture a new strike aircraft. Consequently, the production order for Vautours was cut to first 160, then finally 140 aircraft (30 Vautour IIAs, 40 Vautour IIBs and 70 Vautour IINs). The Vautour was retired from FAF service between 1978 - 1979 when it was replaced by the Mirage F.1C.
Vautour IIA '29' in IAF service
By the mid 1950s the Israeli Air Force (IAF) were keen to replace a number of propeller powered aircraft and, as their approaches to purchase American or British aircraft had been rebuffed as politically too sensitive, they turned towards the French who were keen to establish their new jet manufacturing industry and were not too bothered about the continual arms build up in the middle east or to which country they exported arms. By 1954 the IAF had already stated an interest in acquiring a number of Vautours and in1956, after preliminary discussions had taken place, the IAF were invited to evaluate the Vautour in France. On 23 Apr 56 one of their test pilots, Danni Shapira, flew two of the prototype Vautours at Mont de Marsan before he and other members of the Israeli delegation visited the SNCASO production factory at Saint Nazaire. The visit of the Israelis was kept secret to avoid alerting the USA and UK.
IAF Vautour IIB 33 Big Brother
Although the IAF were keen to get their hands on the Vautour, they were also well aware that the aircraft was still under development and was not yet operational with the FAF. Nevertheless, after considerable negotiations regarding delivery dates, specifications and price in Apr 57 Israel placed an order for 28 aircraft (17 Vautour IIAs, 4 Vautour IIBs and 7 Vautour IINs). As the Vautours destined for the IAF came off the production line they were delivered to Tour AFB where the IAF crews were trained alongside crews from the FAF and then later ferried an aircraft to Israel. In total 31 Vantours were delivered to the IAF, the original 28 ordered plus one more Vautour IIN and two additional Vautour IIAs that were delivered later.
IAF Vautour IIN 70 Fantomas
One IAF Vautour, the first aircraft produced to the N specification, was nicknamed “Phantomas” and was fitted with two ECM ‘Yabelet’ pods, one under each wing, and used to jam enemy radars. This aircraft also carried a camera in the nose and took part in many covert missions during the Six Day war and later the War of Attrition – Phantomas is now on display at the IAF Museum at Hatzerim Air Base along with examples of an A and B model. A number of other IAF Vautour IIB aircraft were also fitted with cameras and undertook PR sorties as necessary, but they were mainly used as fighter bombers. The Vautour was retired from IAF service between 1970 – 1972.
The Sukhoi Su-7 was an effective first generation jet powered ground attack aircraft, but as with many early jet aircraft was soon outclassed as engine and airframe technology improved at a rapid rate. To improve the payload, range and STOL capability of the Su-7, Sukhoi decided to develop a variable geometry version of the aircraft and the result was the S-22I (Su-71G FitterB) which first flew on 2 Aug 66.
The production aircraft were designated Su-17M ‘Fitter C’ and were powered by a 17,200lb afterburning Lyulka AL-21F-3 turbojet and included a new nav/attack system. Export versions of the Su-17 were known as the Su-20 and the aircraft was operated by Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Iraq, North Korea, Syria and Vietnam. A small number of Fitter Cs were built for reconnaissance duties and these aircraft were designated Su-17R / Su-20R.
Sukhoi Su-17 Fitter with KKR recce pod
The improved Su-17M2 and shorter fuselage Su-17M2D were known as Fitter Ds and these aircraft were built from 1974 and introduced a cut down nose to improve pilot visibility, a fixed intake centrebody carrying a laser rangefinder and a Doppler radar in a pod under the nose. The Fitter D was exported as the Su-17 M-2K and these aircraft, powered by a Tumansky R-29BS-300 engine, were operated by Angola, Libya and Peru.
The Su-17M3 had a deepened forward fuselage, tall tailfin, a removable ventral fin and two wing-root cannons. The export version of this variant was known as the Su-22M-3K and these aircraft were operated by Angola, Hungary, Libya, Peru and Yemen. The next development was the Su-17M4 / Su-22M4 Fitter K and these aircraft were exported to Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Afghanistan.
Bulgarian Sukhoi Su-22M4 Fitter with KKR recce pod
The Su-17M4 / Su-22M4 was equipped with a large KKR multi-sensor reconnaissance pod which was carried on the aircrafts centreline. The pod contains forward looking and oblique cameras, as well as photo flash cartridges for night operations and ELINT equipment. A number of these aircraft are still in operational service with various air forces, but they are gradually being retired.
The Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer was designed as an all-weather low-level supersonic interdictor, equivalent to the General Dynamics F-111, to replace ageing II-28 and Yak-28 Brewer medium bombers. First flown in late 1971, the Fencer A only served in small numbers with a trials unit. The Fencer B was the first version produced in real numbers and entered service in 1974. Fencer C entered service in 1981 with considerable improvements to the avionics. Fencer C and B aircraft remain in front line service with Russia and a number of former Soviet states. The vastly improved Su-24M Fencer-D entered service in 1986 and this version features terrain following, rather than terrain avoidance, radar. The export version, the Su-24MK, has been delivered to Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Sukhoi Su-24MR Fencer-E
The Su-24MR Fencer-E is a tactical reconnaissance aircraft that can be identified by its dielectic panels in a slightly shortened nose. The basic reconnaissance package is the BKR-1 Bortovoy Kompleks Razvedki (Onboard Reconnaissance Complex) which incorporates the Shtyk (Bayonet) SLAR and a Zima (Winter) imaging infrared reconnaissance system in the nose. In addition, the aircraft frequently carries various combinations of the Aist-M (Stork) TV reconnaissance pack, the AP-402 and A-100 'wet-film cameras, the Ehfir-1M (Ether) radiation monitoring system, the Shpil'-2M (Steeple) laser line-scan unit and the Tangazh (Pitch) ELINT system in external pods. Using an on-board wide-band radio channel the aircraft can transmit data from some sensors in near real time to dedicated ground stations. In addition, the camera pods can also develop film in-flight, which can then be dropped inside a special canister to a ground based command post or mobile Reconnaissance Intelligence Cell (RIC). Around 100 aircraft are currently in service with Russia, how many of the exported Fencers remain serviceable is very debateable, but probably only a handful in each country at any one time.
Sukhoi Su-24MP Fencer-F
The Su-24MP Fencer-F was designed as a dedicated ECM aircraft, which can also gather ELINT and SIGINT. The aircraft is very similar in appearance to the Fencer-E but can be distinguished by a prominent undernose fairing and a number of swept-back 'hockey stick' antennas mounted near the intakes. Only around 20 aircraft were built and the majority remain in service.
The Supermarine Spitfire FR18 was one of the final versions of the legendary Spitfire of Battle of Britain fame. However, although the FR18 was easily recognised as a Spitfire, it was vastly different from the early Mk 1 aircraft. The FR 18 was larger in every respect, weighing nearly more than 3000lbs fully loaded than the Mk 1, it was also 3 feet longer and instead of the 990BHP RR Merlin II, the FR18 was powered by a 2000BHP RR Griffon 65.
The performance difference between the two aircraft showed even more clearly how rapid aircraft development had been during WW2; in 1940 the Spitfire Mk I could achieve a maximum speed of around 350mph and had a service ceiling of 34,700ft, yet just four years later in 1944 the Spitfire FR18 was capable of 450mph and had a service ceiling of 44,000ft. As a dedicated fighter reconnaissance aircraft, the Spitfire FR18 carried a 31-gallon fuel tank, two vertical cameras and one oblique camera in the rear fuselage and entered widespread service with a number of squadrons towards the end of WW2.
The history of the magnificent Supermarine Spitfire is well documented in many other websites. However, although most people know the aircraft was originally designed and operated as a fighter, fewer are aware that it was also used in a number of variants as a pure reconnaissance aircraft. The possibility of adapting the earliest version of the aircraft was quickly recognised and right back an early Spitfire Mk 1 was fitted with cameras in the wings and became a PR1A that undertook a reconnaissance sortie near Aachen on 18 Nov 39. As the war progressed further versions of the Spitfire were adapted for reconnaissance duties as the PR Mk 10 and Mk 11 and these version saw extensive service during the latter part of the war but are outside the scope of this article.
The final version of the aircraft developed for reconnaissance duties was by general consent the best, the Spitfire PR19, and this version saw extensive service after the war in a number of theatres. This version built on all the lessons learnt from previous aircraft, combining the wing of the PR 11 containing 66-gallon leading edge fuel tanks and potential camera installation and was powered by the 2000hp Griffon 65 series engine used in the Mk14. The total internal fuel capacity of the PR19 was 252 gallons, although there was the option of also carrying a 90 gal or 170 gal drop tank, the added drag virtually outweighed the benefit and it was rarely carried.
Spitfire PR19 oblique camera
The camera installation was fairly similar to that used for the Mk 11. Within the fuselage were mounted various cameras, either two fanned or a single F52 36in vertical, two fanned F52 20in vertical or two fanned F24 14in vertical and one F24 14in or 8in oblique. The fuselage cameras were heated by warm air ducted from behind the starboard radiator. Additional cameras could also be carried in the wings in place of the inter-spar fuel tanks and these were also heated by warm ducted air. The installation of a full pressure cabin made life much more comfortable for the pilot during freezing high altitude, long endurance reconnaissance sorties. The last operational flight made by any RAF Spitfire was flown by a PR XIX over Malaya on 1 Apr 1954.
Spitfire PR19 PS915
Essentially, the PR19 combined the performance of the Mk 14, whilst having a greater range than the PR 11 and the cockpit conditions of the PR 10. With an all-up-weight of only 7500lb it was capable of a top speed of 460mph, making the PR19 the fastest Spitfire ever produced. More importantly, the aircraft was capable of cruising at 370mph at up to 49,000ft, taking it above the reach of effective interception by other piston aircraft. After the war, the aircraft saw operational service Malaya, during the campaign against communist insurgents; however, the most impressive operations undertaken by the Spitfire PR19 were those sorties over China in 1951. The Spitfire PR 19 was the backbone of the RAF photographic reconnaissance force for many years, serving with a number of squadrons until they were eventually replaced by reconnaissance versions of the jet powered Meteor and Canberra. Two examples of the Spitfire PR19, PS915 and PM631, are still flying with the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby.
The Supermarine Swift was developed as a potential fall-back in the event of problems with the Hawker Hunter. Via the Supermarine 510 and 535 prototypes the Swift finally evolved and 100 were ordered in 1950 followed by another 100 from Short and Harland in 1952. However, severe performance failings in the fighter variants led to the type being rapidly replaced by the Hunter and the Swift was by then considered an abysmal failure.
In an attempt to salvage something from the Swift programme, a photo reconnaissance version was developed and the first aircraft of this new version XD903 flew on 25 May 55. The FR Mk 5 entered service with the RAF in Feb 1956 eventually equipping 2 and 79 Squadrons based at Geilenkirchen and Gutersloh respectively. Although still rather short on range, the aircraft featured a longer nose than the fighter variant and this housed three F.95 cameras together with two Aden cannons.
Swift FR Mk5
The Swift FR Mk5 gave good service and, despite it's limitations was liked by many. Operating predominently in the punishing low-level regime proved the resiliance of the strong airframe and at last the Swift had found it's true role. However, in 1961 after only 5 years front line service it was replaced by the by the Hawker Hunter FR Mk10, generally considered to be one of the best fighter reconnaissance aircraft of all time.
Two highly modified C-160 Transall ‘Gabriel' are operated by Escadron Electronique EE54 ‘Dunkerque’ in a tactical SIGINT role from their base at Mtez-Frescaty. The 2 aircraft F221 ‘GS’ (c/n224) and F216 ‘GT’ (c/n 219) are believed to be operated by a flight crew of 2 pilots and a navigator. The rear cabin houses 4 SIGINT operators, 8 COMINT operators and a SIGINT Director. The aircraft carries an ELINT subsystem provided by Thompson-CSF Radars & Contremesures for detectiom, analysis and location of radar sources, together with a COMINT subsystem provided by Thompson-CSF Communications for detection, interception, classification, listening-in, analysis and location of radio transmitters. The aircraft also have a photographic reconnaissance capability and can carry a variety of cameras in the rear fuselage.
C-160 Transall Gabriel
The two aircraft are generally deployed in support of French military interests and are known to have operated over the Baltic, the Gulf and Kosovo.
The aircraft can be easily distinguished from the standard C-160 Transall by a variety of fuselage fairings, wing-tip pods and prominent antennas on the top of the fuselage and wings. When airborne the aircraft also lowers two rotating ‘dustbin’ radomes from under the forward and rear fuselage.
The Tupolev Tu-16 Badger was originally developed as a medium bomber to complement the Myasishchev M-4 Bison and Tupolev Tu-95 Bear and the first prototype flew in 1952. Around 2000 Badgers were produced and only a few remain in service with Russia.
The Badger-D (Tu-16R) was configured for a maritime ELINT role. These aircraft were based on redundant Badger-C's, but with a larger undernose radome and 3 smaller radomes under weapons bay which all housed ELINT equipment.
The Badger-E was a dedicated photographic and ELINT aircraft. These aircraft were similar in appearance to the Badger-A nuclear bomber, but carried cameras and various ELINT sensors in a pallet fitted in the bomb bay as well as having 2 radomes under fuselage.
The Badger-F (Tu-16R) was a dedicated maritime ELINT platform, similar in appearance to the Badger-E, but carried large ELINT pods under each wing.
The Badger-J (Tu-16PP) was a dedicated ECM jamming/ELINT aircraft. A very distinctive canoe shaped ventral faring which protruded from the bomb bay housed the ECM equipment. Flat plate antennas were also carried on the wingtips.
The Badger-K is an updated version of the Badger-F and performs a similar maritime ELINT role.
The Badger-L is an updated Badger E and performs a maritime ELINT/photographic role.
The Chinese undertook licensed production of the Badger from 1968 until the early 1990's. The aircraft is known as the Xian H-6 and a number also perform recce duties.
An unusual military design, the Tu-22 Blinder carried a crew of 3 and was designed as a high-speed bomber powered by 2 Koliesov VD-7 turbojets of over 30,000lb st thrust each with afterburning mounted above the rear fuselage - at altitude this aircraft achieved Mach 1.5. However, the high speed of the aircraft resulted in a limited range and only 250 aircraft were eventually built.
The Blinder-A was a reconnaissance bomber which entered service in 1961 and as well as cameras, carried free-fall nuclear or conventional bombs in a fuselage weapons bay. Four or six cameras were also carried in another fuselage bay. Blinder-B was similar to Blinder A, but was equipped to carry the Kitchen air-to-surface missile.
Blinder-C was a maritime reconnaissance version with six camera windows in the weapons bay doors as well as various items of ELINT equipment. A number of Blinder's are still believed to operated by Russia. The Blinder was sold to Libya and Iraq, but none are believed to still be in service.
The Tupolev Bear is the fastest propeller-driven aircraft ever flown and as such is something of a triumph of clever aerodynamics married to 4 enormously powerful Kuznetsov NK-12MV turboprop engines. Originally designed as a bomber back in the early 1950’s it entered service in 1956.
The Bear A was the original strategic bomber and many were subsequently re-built to later G versions. The Bear B was used to carry the AS-3 Kangaroo stand-off missile and had a chin radome housing the Crown Drum radar. The Bear-D was designed for oceanic surveillance and ship targeting and equipped the Naval Air Force. The former bomb-bay housed a Big Bulge radar operating in the I-band. The Bear-E is a dedicated photo reconnaissance version with 6 or 7 cameras in the lower fuselage and various other oblique cameras. The Bear F was a dedicated sub-hunter. The Bear G was a re-build of earlier A models and was equipped with a Crown Drum radar and carried a variety of stand-off missiles, including the AS-4 Kitchen. The Bear H was designed to carry the AS-15 Kent cruise missile.
Bear D airborne from below left
To monitor the communications of the many countries that border China, about 10 Tu-154M/D’s have been converted for work as SIGINT collection platforms with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
The aircraft are flown in China United Airlines livery, which is the ‘commercial’ arm of the PLAAF and operate from Nanyuan near Bejiing. The PLAAF Tu-154M/D’s are distinguished by a large ‘canoe’ faring under the forward fuselage, which is believed to contain a synthetic aperture radar. The faring appears very similar to that carried by the Northrop/Grumman E-8 JSTARS, which given China's track record of 'acquiring' western technology by nefairous means, may be more than just a coincidence. It is believed the aircraft also carry various irems of ECM and ELINT equipment and are frequently seen around the border areas of China.
Unlike the Victor and Vulcan, from the outset of its design the Valiant was developed as a dual-role bomber, with a strategic reconnaissance capability built into the design of a specific production batch. In May 1955 the first dual-role reconnaissance and bomber Valiant B(PR).1 was delivered to RAF Gaydon in Warwickshire. This airframe was initially attached to 138 Sqn until 543 Sqn formed on 1 Jun 55. Three further Valiant B(PR).1 aircraft were delivered in July, WP219, WP223 and WP221.
By 1955 543 Sqn at Wyton was fully equipped with the Valiant B(PR)1 and, eventually adopting a similar role to the USAF RB-47E, the aircraft began photographing and radar mapping the approach routes the later V-Bombers would follow to their targets in the Soviet Union. Whether Valiant’s actually penetrated Soviet controlled airspace during these sorties is not known, but given the performance of the aircraft, it is considered highly unlikely. By 1954 the deployment of updated radar systems along their border areas had made it far more difficult for aircraft to penetrate Soviet territory undetected, particularly at the operating altitude of the Valiant.
Valient B(PR)1 turning finals
In May 1957 two 543 Sqn crews were declared ‘combat’ classified those of Wg Cdr Havercroft and Sqn Ldr Cremer (who had also taken part in the RB-45C sorties from Sulthorpe). It is believed that during this time Valiant’s from 543 Sqn conducted reconnaissance sorties into the Black Sea. It had been recognised for some time that Soviet defences were less concentrated in the southern states of Russia and one of the main approach routes for the V-Force bombers would have been through the Black Sea area, particularly for aircraft based in Cyprus, and these sorties were designed to radar and photo map the likely entry routes up to the border. Between 1957 and 1962 Valiant’s were also used to photograph the likely track that other V-bombers carrying Blue Steel missiles would follow on their approach to the Soviet Union this data enabled highly accurate navigation charts to be produced and ensured the missile’s accuracy.
Valient B(PR)1 WP220 on ground starboard
In it’s day reconnaissance role the Valiant B (PR)1 carried up in its camera crate eight F52 cameras, each with 48in lenses, providing 60 degree coverage either side of the aircraft. In addition, a 12 inch F49 was carried in the front starboard side. Finally, behind the shortened bomb bay doors and main camera crate was a fixed panel which held three six inch F49 cameras in what was known as the tri-met position. On at least one occasion, a Valiant was fitted with a special 60 inch F52 camera, looking out of the port window, to obtain oblique photograps over the borders of the Warsaw Pact. For night reconnaissance the bomb bay was fitted with a Night Camera Crate, this role five or six cameras were again housed in the bomb bay along with photo-cell units photo-flashes were housed in the rear of the bomb bay. A small 35 inch camera was also installed in the cabin to photograph the radar screen, so a permanent record could be kept of appropriate radar returns.
Valient B(PR)1 WZ381 on ground port
In 1964 three Valiant’s of 543 Sqn, under the control of the Central Reconnaissance Establishment, conducted Operation Pontifex in which they undertook and aerial survey of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Bechuanaland covering 400,000 square miles of territory. It was during this operation that Valiant WZ394 developed a crack in the rear wing spar that was eventually to lead to the whole of the Valiant force being withdrawn from operational service in January 1965. Eventually, all the Valiant B(PR).1 aircraft were assigned the AAR role as well and were redesignated Valiant B(PR)K.1.
Due to fatigue problems all the aircraft were retired in Feb 1965 and the 543 Squadron was re-equipped with the Victor B.2(SR) beginning in May 1965.
The Sea King HC Mk 1 and later marks are all versions of the Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King helicopter built under licence by Westlands in Yeovil, Somerset. The Westland version differed from the US versions by using UK engines and avionics and served with great distinction for many years as the Royal Navy’s primary Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter, operating from their three small Invincible class carriers, Illustrious, Ark Royal and Invincible.
Fairey Ganney AEW Mk 3
However, the Falklands War in 1982 exposed all too clearly a glaring gap in the Royal Navy’s capability, where a complete absence of an effective Airborne Early Warning (AEW) capability cost the Navy dearly, leading directly to the loss of a number of ships and the death of many servicemen and civilians. The lack of AEW was a direct result of a government decision to scrap the RN’s last fixed-wing carrier, HMS Ark Royal, in 1978 without replacing the AEW capability provided by the then antiquated fixed-wing Fairey Gannet AEW Mk3 carrying a fairly basic AN/APS20F radar, a development of the AN/APS20A radar that came into service with the first US Navy AEW Avenger aircraft in May 1945 and the Bellhop data-link. The expectation was that, when the Gannet AEW Mk 3 aircraft retired, an AEW capability would be provided for the RN by land based RAF Shackleton AEW Mk2 aircraft, again equipped with the antiquated AN/APS20F radar recovered from the Gannet AEW aircraft, and then eventually its planned replacement, the Nimrod AEW Mk3. The Nimrod AEW Mk 3 fiasco is covered in detail elsewhere and it is suffice to say that thankfully the programme was eventually scrapped before the aircraft entered service, but not before the expenditure of probably about one billion pounds. Nevertheless, even if this aircraft had been available, given the immense distances involved, it is highly unlikely it, or any other land-based AEW aircraft could have contributed very much to the Falklands War, unless it had joined the other Nimrod aircraft the RAF operated covertly out of Chile.
The RNs urgent need for effective an AEW system that could operate from the Invincible class carriers, which lack and angled deck, steam catapults or arrestor wires, meant that only a helicopter could be considered for the task and the Sea King was the only choice available. In May 1982, even whilst the Falklands conflict was still underway, Westlands began converting two standard Sea King HAS Mk 2s, XV 650 and XV 704, to undertake the AEW role. A large inflatable radome containing the Thorn-EMI ARI 5930/3 Searchwater radar was mounted on the starboard side of the helicopter. The Searchwater AEW radar was an adaptation of the Searchwater radar carried by the RAF’s Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. The radome was mounted on a swivel arm which could be rotated through 90°, enabling it to be clear of the ground for take-off and landing.
Westland Sea King AEW Mk2
After a crash development programme, assisted considerably by a handful of former observers from the AEW Gannets, the two development helicopters were converted and flying by the end of July 1982 and were given the designation Sea King HAS Mk 2 (AEW). These two helicopters formed D Flt of 824 NAS on HMS Illustrious when it sailed with its battle group to the South Atlantic in Aug 1982, replacing the two carriers HMS Hermes and Invincible that had conducted the Falklands War. Although these two helicopters were rushed into service and were not up to full production standard, they proved the concept and a contract was placed with Westlands to convert a further six Sea King HAS Mk 2 helicopters into AEW Mk 2s as well as bringing the two development helicopters up to full production standard.
Westland Sea King AEW Mk2
On 1 Nov 1984 at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, 849 NAS was reformed to operate the two development AEW helicopters. As more helicopters were converted they joined 849 NAS and in August 1985 the first three production Sea King AEW Mk 2s embarked on HMS Illustrious. With a maximum of two of the Invincible class carriers planned to be at sea at any one time, 849 NAS consisted of A and B operational flights with three helicopters, five pilots and ten observers each, together with a small headquarters flight which remained at Culdrose. Unlike the ASW Sea Kings which operate with two pilots and two observers, the AEW version operates with a single pilot and two observers. Because of the inflatable bag containing the Searchwater radar, the AEW helicopters were soon referred to as ‘bags’ and the crews soon acquired the nickname ‘baggers’ or ‘bagmen’.
Westland Sea King AEW Mk2
As well as the pre-production aircraft, a further seven Sea King HAS 1/2s were eventually converted into Sea King AEW 2A helicopters, XV649, XV656, XV664, XV671, XV672, XV697, XV707 and XV714. Later all these nine helicopters were upgraded to AEW 5 standard and given the designation AEW 2A. As the EHI Merlin ASW helicopter began to enter service, a further four Sea King HAS 5s, ZD636, ZE418, ZE420 and XV664 were converted into AEW helicopters – these four helicopters were given the AEW 2 designation and serve alongside the other AEW helicopters in 849 NAS.
Westland Sea King ASaC.7
However, the effectiveness of the Thorn-EMI ARI 5930/3 Searchwater radar was limited by clutter, caused by land and wave crests that got worse closer to the receiver. Climbing higher increased the range of the radar horizon, but also increased the clutter – descending lower reduced the clutter but also reduced the radar horizon, so a compromise height was usually selected for the task. In normal AEW operations, the helicopter flew as high as it needed to until it acquired the target, then slowly descended to keep the target out of clutter. As the Sea King AEW helicopters were not pressurised or carried oxygen, they could not operate above 10,000 and generally operated much lower. As in the Gannet and Shackleton, aircraft returns were tracked by drawing marks with a chinagraph pencil on the radar screen, hardly a sophisticated system, but one that worked, and with well trained observers acting as airborne fighter controllers, proved effective at providing Sea Harriers with sufficient information to intercept low-flying aircraft.
Westland Sea King ASaC.7
However, the limitations of the Thorn-EMI ARI 5930/3 Searchwater radar and the need for better data links and communications were obvious and in the early 1990’s Project Cerberus were formed to identify the capabilities needed in a replacement system. On 14 Feb 97 Thales was awarded a £90 million contract to build the replacement AEW system and then modify the helicopters as necessary – this contract was subsequently increased to £140 million. The new Cerberus system consists of the Searchwater 2000AEW X band radar, a modified version of the radar that will equip the new Nimrod MRA4. This pulse Doppler radar is much lighter than the old Thorn-EMI ARI 5930/3 Searchwater radar, but has 300% more transmitting power, as well as an integrated Mk XII IFF interrogator. This sophisticated radar has much better clutter suppression and can provide overland tracking, as well as air and surface tracking. The new radar scanner can change its tilt angle between each rotation, producing an elevated pulse envelope beam to locate high altitude contacts on its first rotation, followed by a pulse Doppler beam on its second rotation to track contacts within the radar horizon. A further scan in either littoral or open-sea mode can then track surface contacts. This flexibility gives the new system a capability that is a quantum leap ahead of the fairly primitive radar system on the AEW 2A.
Westland Sea King ASaC.7 cabin
The two black and white radar displays in the old system were replaced by two colour high-resolution flat panel displays, which allow the observers to set up their screens to suit themselves or the task they are undertaking. Two smaller touch panels in front of each operator act as totes or can be used to control the various sub-systems or radar mode settings. The advanced processing systems available allow up to 250 air and surface contacts to be automatically tracked, in addition, the system can also accept up to 300 further tracks over its Link 16 or JTIDS data-links. Communications improvements include two ARC 164 secure UHF HQ11 radios, an AD3400 secure V/UHF radio and a Collins 618T HF radio.
Westland Sea King ASaC.7
A completely new system interface, utilising the touch-screen panels, a standard keyboard and a ‘Windows’ based programme, was designed to be user-friendly and allows any function to be accessed in no more than three key strokes. One key labelled ‘WTFGO’ is known officially as the ‘Weapon Target Fighter Global Overview and when pressed shows data link control lines from C² units and their fighters, together with intercept vector lines to their respective targets. Unofficially this key is known as the ‘What the F*s Going On’ button, which is probably a much more accurate description of the facilities it provides. Probably the only real weakness of the new helicopters equipment is in the area of electronic surveillance, where it retains the aged ‘Orange Crop’ system of the older helicopter; given the other excellent capabilities of the Cerberus system, this weakness will probably soon be addressed and ‘Orange Crop’ replaced with a modern and much more sophisticated ESM package, further enhancing the Cerberus system.
Westland Sea King ASaC.7
To reflect the vastly greater capabilities of the new helicopter, the designation was changed from AEW 2A to Air Surveillance and Control (ASaC.7). A rolling programme commenced at Westlands to convert the old AEW 2A helicopters into the ASaC.7 and in March 2002 the first new helicopter was delivered by to 849 Sqn. All 13 AEW 2 and AEW 2A helicopters were converted into ASaC.7 helicopters by 2004 and were soon operational on the Invincible class carriers. The new helicopters saw action in Gulf War II, where their overland capabilities enabled them to operate as a mini ‘J-STARS’, giving commanders on the ground the ability to monitor activity at the front by viewing the Link 16 picture. The Sea King ASaC.7 helicopters are likely to remain in service until 2015 and possibly beyond, given the UK’s abysmal record in defence procurement. Eventually the Sea King ASaC.7 helicopters will be replaced by a new platform identified under the Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control Project. Although the purchase of the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 as a replacement would probably be the preferred option, the chances are that the UK government will be unwilling to agree to the two new carriers planned for the RN to be equipped to operate fixed wing AEW aircraft. This leaves either an AEW version of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey or an AEW version of the EHI Merlin – given the history of UK defence procurement; my money would be on the AEW Merlin, nevertheless only time will tell, but jobs in marginal constituencies and politics will always outweigh the preferred military choice.
There is also a tragic postscript to the Sea King ASaC.7 helicopter story. On 22 Mar 03, whilst operating from HMS Ark Royal in the northern Persian Gulf, two Sea King ASaC.7 helicopters of 849 A Flt collided, killing all seven crewmen on board. The incident occurred in darkness as one helicopter returning from a surveillance mission collided with its replacement on the same flight path. According to the official Board of Inquiry, the collision was compounded by the lack of Night Vision Goggles on either helicopter, reported problems with the Sea Kings exterior warning lights (which may have been turned off) and inadequate radar vigilance by controllers on HMS Ark Royal. In a strange twist of fate, the helicopters that collided were XV 650 and XV 704, the two original airframes that were hastily converted into Sea King HAS Mk 2 (AEW)s back in May 1982.
After the recovery of Gary Power’s U-2, the Soviets realised how far behind the USA their own aviation industry lagged. The Soviet leadership also recognised the requirement for a similar high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and the benefits that clandestine reconnaissance of neighbouring countries would bring.
Their solution was to do what Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson had done and adapt a fighter design to achieve the performance required. The Vakovlev design bureau settled on adapting the Yak-25 fighter by adding a new nose, a single cockpit and an enlarged wing - the resulting aircraft was the Yak-25RD ‘Mandrake’. Equipped with two Tumansk RD-9 turbojets the Mandrake first flew in 1960 and in Apr 63 entered operational service. Between 15 to 20 examples were eventually built in two versions, the Mandrake R or YAK-25RM and Mandrake-T or YAK 26.
Although the Mandrake certainly had a greatly increased high-altitude performance, it’s operating ceiling of 65,000ft was still 10,000ft below the U-2. In operational service, it is believed the Mandrake conducted a number of reconnaissance sorties over Middle Eastern countries, China, India and Pakistan, but with only limited success. Mandrake's were also observed operating near the border regions of NATO during the early ‘60s.