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Force ready to strike against terror threat

Posted 5 March 2018 · Add Comment

Jihadi militias sweeping across Iraq during 2014 and 15 saw many Middle Eastern government leaders breaking out into a sweat. As a direct result, several countries are now equipping their militaries to take on such armed groups, while at the same time lessons are also being learnt from the on-going conflict in Yemen. Alan Warnes reports.

At the Dubai Air Show in November, the war in Yemen, jihadi terrorists and the Iranian threat were uppermost in many military leaders’ thoughts.
The eighth Dubai International Air Chiefs (DIAC) Conference, held the day before show opened, saw the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence (UAEAF&AD) chief, Brigadier General Ibrahim Naser Al Asawi, speak briefly on operations over Yemen.
Asawi told a packed audience: “The UAEAF&AD is currently participating in Operations Decisive Storm and Restore Hope in Yemen, under the leadership of the Saudi Arabia. It has been almost 1,000 days since the start of this operation and, during that time, we have executed more than 130,000 flying hours involving fighter, transport and support aircraft, as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms.
“The UAEAF&AD continues to adjust to the ever-changing battle scenarios as it tries to defeat the enemies, including ISIS, in Yemen. I think we all agree that the battles we are facing there will continue for a long while and are similar to the threats being faced in Iraq and Syria – against a well-trained and well-worked fighting force.”
It was left to the UAEAF&AD’s deputy commander, Brigadier General M Al Shamsi, to tell the DIAC audience of the importance of multi-role, multi-sensor platforms as part of UAE’s network-centric strategy. “One of the important needs for the future is to embark on a more versatile set of procurement requirements that would see more multi-role platforms with the ability to share data and enhance command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) selection and distribution systems,” he said.
Thus, it wasn’t surprising to see several examples of multi-role aircraft, in the shape of strike ISR platforms, on display at the air show itself.
A significant newcomer to the strike ISR world is the Calidus B-250 light attack aircraft, which made its public debut at the show.
Calidus LLC is an Abu Dhabi industrial machinery and equipment company, which has moved into aircraft manufacture. However, claims that the B-250 was the “first military fighter to be developed in the UAE” might be a little ambitious as Brazil’s Novaer has been influential. Having being contracted to design the new aircraft in 2015, Novaer was instructed to have the new design ready for the Dubai show.
Powered by a 1600shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68, with a four-blade Hartzell propeller, the cockpit houses two Martin Baker Mk 16 ejection seats and a Pro Line Fusion avionics system from Rockwell Collins.
A pressurised cockpit system means the aircraft can reach heights of up to 30,000 feet. Not too surprisingly, the B-250 looks similar to the Embraer Super Tucano, because they both share the same designer, Novaer’s Joseph Kovacs.
Calidus senior communications consultant, Hares Shehab, said: “Calidus, supported by the UAE Government, sees a niche for a light aircraft with multirole capabilities. You must remember that technologies used to build some of the aircraft currently operating in this role are up to 50 years old. Some US companies [like Iomax and Air Tractor] have even adapted agricultural aircraft! We decided to start from scratch, using all the 21st century technologies available to build this new aircraft.”
A plethora of weapons surrounded the B-250 in the static display, produced by Brazil’s Avibras, or in UAE by Tawazun Dynamics (now Al Barj). An L3 Wescam MX-15D electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret with an advanced video tracker has also been integrated to cater for its close air support, ISR and counter-insurgency needs.
After being transported by a UAEAF&AD C-17 to Minhad, the B-250 was flown by Saif Alkaabi, Calidus’ VP marketing and a former UAEAF&AD Mirage 2000-9 pilot, during a short demonstration to his former colleagues at the base before the show. He checked the aircraft out at the Dubai show and was part of the team presenting the aircraft to the UAEAF&AD afterwards.
According to Calidus, the single-engine B-250, when loaded with four 250lb GBU-58 Paveway II laser guided bombs, two AIM-9 Sidewinders and a drop tank, has a range of 350 miles (560kms).
Production of the aircraft is expected to take place at Al Ain, home to the new national aerospace park, which will undoubtedly lead to the UAEAF&AD eventually acquiring the new multi-role turboprop.
While the B-250 might have been catching much of the local attention, it was the Airbus C295 gunship that caught the imagination. Despite being only a modular concept, it provided many would-be customers with food for thought.
Miguel Morales, Airbus’ head of airborne ISR marketing said: “There are several light attack aircraft [in operational use in the region] but we have been told by potential customers that, while they are good with high-quality weapons, they lack endurance and ISR sensors.”
To ensure the concept would appeal to as many potential customers as possible, Airbus looked at different weapons proposals, with US and non-US options.
Non International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) systems are important to many potential customers, particularly in the Middle East. This was highlighted by the choice of weapons for the pre-production phase programme on display in front of the armed C295W. It included Madrid-based EXPAL Mk 40 guided and Mk 46 unguided rockets, as well as CAT-70 (2.75in) rockets that could be fired from a rocket launcher designed by Brazil’s Equipaer. All are options that could arm the four hard points under the wings.
Munitions from Turkey’s Roketsan were also a feature, with the 2.75in CIRIT laser-guided rocket and laser-guided long-range anti-tank missile (L-UMTAS) both on show. They are already being used by the UAEAF&AD on the Iomax Archangel and AT-802U.
Another Roketsan exhibit was the 500lb Teber 82 laser-guided bomb.
Morales continued: “Some of our potential customers want these weapons and were interested in working with two of the providers, which makes it easier.”
There are also machine gun and cannon options, as could be seen around the aircraft. Morales added: “We have already integrated a 12.7mm M3D machine gun on a C295 for a customer in the Middle East, which will be delivered soon. Its fixed to the cargo hold and can be installed in 30 minutes, working with a fully integrated tactical system (FITS). The Rheinmetall Bk27 auto-cannon used by the Eurofighter, Tornado and Gripen, is also an option, with a range of up to 4kms. It is useful for the heavier targets.”
Morales was keen to point out the duration of the aircraft with a heavy load: “The C295 can fly up to 10-hour missions, depending upon weapons integration. The most limiting configuration would be 16 L-UMTAS, four missiles on four hard points, which will limit endurance to between six and nine hours. Other configurations could allow 10 hours with two crews on board.”
He continued: “We are doing the critical design review before the end of the year (2017). Ground tests, with all the weapons under wing, will take place before the summer of 2018 and flight-test is expected in October 2018. Several potential customers are currently defining their requirements.”
During the later stages of the show, the UAEAF&AD announced a $250 million contract for five C295s, which might eventually be armed. Airbus is hoping to complete weapons integration on the prototype by October 2018, with a first aircraft operational in mid-2021.
Airbus was keen to stress that the full-up armed version is likely to include systems available on the Saudi General Security Aviation Command (GSAC) C295W, which was parked next to gunship version.
A satcom on top of the fuselage allows the C295 to transmit huge bandwidths of imagery to the ground. The data-link aerial positioned between the main undercarriage allows the on-board operators to send and receive smaller levels of data, while the radar housed in the forward fuselage provides the aircraft its ‘eyes’.
Airbus would not confirm any of the systems on the Saudi example, although an L3 Wescam MX-20 EO/IR system was mounted under the nose. The latter has an integrated laser designator but a second EO/IR system for the auto-cannon could be fitted and fired via the fully integrated tactical system.
The highly modified Saudi airlifter is the second of four ordered by the GSAC. It was on delivery to Riyadh, where it will undergo technical evaluation. The first example was a passenger aircraft delivered 18 months ago.
Orbital ATK was at the Dubai show marketing its next generation armed Caravan, the AC-208 Eliminator, which already has a launch customer. The company remained tight-lipped on who that was but confirmed it is a new Middle East operator.
The Eliminator is fitted with two dual-rail weapon pylons under each wing allowing a mix of AGM-114 Hellfires and/or 2.75in rocket pods, although the launch customer is looking at an unguided version for the latter.
Also on board was a high definition (HD) EO/IR system with an integrated laser designator, probably a L3 Wescam MX-15. Both Iraq and Lebanon, which already operates armed AC-208Bs, are prospective AC-208 Eliminator operators.
Orbital ATK is also the preferred partner for the armed An-132, which Taqnia Aeronautics is set to develop with the Royal Saudi Air Force.
AirLand Textron flew its Scorpion ISR/strike jet into Dubai after participating in several evaluation sorties in Saudi Arabia over a two-week period.
The tandem-seat light fighter had enjoyed an eventful year as the company looked to push the aircraft to the next level. It led to two full-spec aircraft – P2/N532TX and P3/N534TX – making their maiden flights during the summer to join the other two jets, D1/N531TA and P1/N530TX.
P2 was involved in a light attack experiment (LAX) at Holloman AFB, New Mexico during most of August, where it flew 21 missions.
Scorpion test pilot, Brett Pierson, said: “Earlier it had gone to [Naval Air Station] Patuxent River for weapons clearance work. The USAF had specified the weapons it wanted to use in the LAX so, we set about clearing the 500lb series GBU-12, FN Herstal HPM 400C 15 calibre single-barrel machine gun and LAU-31 rocket pods to fire unguided and guided rockets.”
US aerospace company Iomax debuted its new company Block 2 demonstrator. Lee Moritz, senior director, marketing said: “We built the aircraft specifically for this show and then flew it out here.”
Mounted under its wings were two Roketsan CIRIT 2.75in launcher pods, a GBU-58 250lb Paveway II laser-guided bomb, two AGM-114 Hellfires and a GBU-12 250lb laser-guided precision-guided munition, in addition to two Terma self-protection systems.
However, the most obvious difference from previous Block 1 versions is the L3 Wescam MX-25 EO/IR turret, rather than the standard MX-15, mounted underneath the nose.
The company’s Archangel instructor pilot, who didn’t want to be named, said: “It allows the aircraft to operate at the maximum stand-off range [he wouldn’t provide exact details] and at the same time provide the best standard of imagery on the 17in HD display in the rear seat.”
He went on: “The MX-25 is designed to operate at high altitude, up to 25,000ft, which our customer wants, so it means the aircraft can’t be heard.”
The UAEAF&AD has taken delivery of 24 Archangels but crashed one on operation over Yemen on September 11, 2017, during a reconnaissance mission. While the pilot was killed, the back-seater survived.
The bigger MX-25 will help to keep aircrews out of harm’s way. Iomax is now putting the aircraft through a US Air Force non-defence military aircraft (NDMA) certification, which will pave the way for sales through foreign military sales. Egypt is already showing interest in this new version of an agricultural aircraft first built 50 years ago.

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