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Air Force Technology thread

Khafee

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Just a dedicated thread to show new technology evolving in the air war spectrum

 

Khafee

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US Air Force F-16s Are Getting Pylons With Built-In Missile Warning Sensors And Countermeasures

The bolt-on upgrade will make aging F-16s more survivable by providing better awareness of missile threats and a better ability to fend them off.
By Joseph Trevithick
March 9, 2020

1641054710300.png


The U.S. Air Force is buying new Israeli-made infrared missile warning systems for Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard F-16 Viper fighter jets. The aircraft will carry these infrared warning sensors on specialized underwing pylons that are also capable of accomodating decoy flare and chaff dispensers and electronic warfare jammers.

Israel-headquartered defense contractor Elbit announced that its American subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, had received the contract for "pylon-based infrared missile warning systems" on Mar. 9, 2020. The Air Force has already set aside a little more than $17 million to buy these systems, but the complete contract, which covers work through at least February 2030, could be worth up to just over $471.6 million, according to an official Pentagon contracting announcement on Mar. 5.

Neither the Air Force nor Elbit identified the specific warning system in question, but the Israeli company does offer a number of different suites as part of its Passive Airborne Warning System (PAWS) product line. In addition, Elbit says that PAWS-2 specifically can work with on unspecified pylon mount from Danish defense contractor Terma, according to Aviation Week.

1641054732600.png

A graphic from an Elbit PAWS family brochure showing different variants of that system, as well as a specialized pylon from Terma, at left.

In January 2020, Terma separately announced that it had received a contract worth approximately $84 million to supply examples of its Pylon Integrated Dispensing System Universal (PIDSU) to the Air Force for use on Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard F-16s. The Danish company offers PIDSU as a shell into which a customer can integrate its own choice of missile warning systems, flare and chaff dispensers, and electronic warfare jammers. Each PIDSU pylon can accommodate up to three flare and chaff dispenser buckets, while the exact configuration of the other systems is dependent on their respective designs. The pylons can still carry munitions and other stores, as well.

Terma has already supplied Pylon Integrated Dispensing System Plus (PIDS+) and Electronic Combat Integrated Pylon System Plus (ECIPS+) pylons to the Belgian, Danish, Dutch, and Norwegian Air Forces for installation on their various F-16 variants. Terma has also built similar integrated self-defense systems for the Panavia Tornado combat jet in the past.

1641054749500.png

A Royal Danish Air Force F-16BM Viper. One of Terma's integrated self-defense pylons is visible on the outboard station under the left wing.


1641054776900.png

A chart showing Terma's various pylon offerings and their respective features.

Each PIDS+ pylon can only accept a maximum of two flare and chaff dispensers. They also feature variants of the AN/AAR-60 Missile Warning System, which has three separate warning sensors on each pylon.

The ECIPS pylons carry the three AN/AAR-60 sensors, but do not have the flare and chaff dispensers. Instead, they also have an AN/ALQ-162(V)6 high-band radio frequency countermeasures system from Northrop Grumman installed.

Typically, a Viper would carry one PIDS+ and one ECIPS+ to provide a mix of countermeasures capabilities. An aircraft with one of each would be carrying a complete array of six AN/AAR-60 warning sensors, an AN/ALQ-162(V)6 jammer, and three dispensers for expandable flares or chaff cartridges, just in those pylons.

Both types of pylons are also designed work with the AN/ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System, another Terma product, found on various types of F-16 Vipers. The Danish company also offers systems to provide alerts to incoming threats. This includes options for visual alerts through a fixed display in the cockpit or the feed in the helmet-mounted Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), as well as various types of audio warnings, including through the Danish company's own 3D in-cockpit surround-sound system.


"The threat scenario, especially when operating from deployed bases, is shifting towards increased IR threats – not least MANPADs," Terma's press release for its contract with the Air Force says, using the acronym for shoulder-fired man-portable air defense systems. Longer-range infrared homing surface-to-air missiles are becoming an increasing threat, even from non-state actors, as well.

Elbit's PAWS family and other similar passive infrared missile warning systems can also detect air-to-air missile launches and can spot air- or ground-launched non-heat-seeking missiles, as well. Combined with chaff or an electronic warfare system, the PIDSU pylons ould provide valuable added layers of defense for Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard F-16s.

These types of missile warning systems, tied to other countermeasures suites, are becoming increasingly standard on advanced fourth-generation combat jets. Saudi Arabia's latest F-15SA Eagles notably feature a missile warning suite with infrared sensors pointing in every direction for spherical coverage. All of the variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter also have this capability as part of their AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS).


While the Air Force is planning to replace significant numbers of its F-16s with F-35s over time, it still expects to fly hundreds of Vipers for decades to come, especially in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. So, it's not surprising that the service is looking for ways to upgrade those jets to ensure they remain relevant for actual higher-end combat operations for the foreseeable future.

In the same vein, the Air National Guard, in particular, was the first to begin upgrading parts of its F-16 fleet with AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radars (SABR). SABR is an active electronically scanned array type that expands those Vipers' ability to spot and engage threats at longer distances and with greater precision.


The Air National Guard has its own development and procurement streams and has used them to acquire other upgrades for their F-16s over the years, as well. The SABR upgrade is now finding its way onto F-16s assigned to regular Air Force squadrons.

Between the new PIDSU pylons equipped with the Elbit missile warning systems and other countermeasures and the other upgrades, Air National Guard F-16s, and, to a lesser extent examples of those fighters in the Air Force Reserve, could be on track to becoming some of the best protected and most otherwise advanced and capable Vipers in the world.

Contact the author: [email protected]
 

Khafee

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F-35's Most Sinister Capability Are Towed Decoys That Unreel From Inside Its Stealthy Skin

These "little buddies" not only protect the jet, but they can be used creatively to goad the enemy into showing itself and dying as a result.
By Tyler Rogoway
March 28, 2019

1641056402400.png


One of the least talked about, but most potent capabilities that can enhance the survivability of a combat aircraft these days is the ability to deploy towed decoys. Often referred to as "little buddies" by the crews that bet their lives on them, they have existed in miniature form for over two decades on aircraft like the F-16C/D, B-1B, and F/A-18E/F, as well as foreign fighter aircraft. But most wouldn't think such a system would be included in a 5th generation fighter that was designed from the ground up to evade enemy radars. This isn't the case. Although it isn't something touted by the manufacturer or its operators, the F-35 has this capability concealed beneath its curvaceous and stealthy skin.

First off, you are probably thinking that the inclusion of such a system in the F-35's design is a sign of weakness in its stealth capabilities. Maybe it could be framed in such a manner, but doing so really doesn't do the topic justice and it wouldn't be fair to the F-35 either.

Stealth fighters, as we know them today, are not highly optimized to evade a broad range of radar types. Instead, they are optimized to give fire control radars used to actually engage targets, as well as detect them in many cases, a very tough time. The classic appendages of a fighter aircraft—nose, tail surfaces, exhaust nozzles, and even wings—do not lend themselves to broadband radio frequency low-observability, but they are conducive to maneuverability and speed. So, while aircraft like the F-35 are effective at hiding from the most threatening radar types, and especially when viewed by those sensors from certain aspects, with the frontal-hemisphere profile being most optimized, they are less adept from doing the same when it comes to radars operating at lower frequencies or when viewed from rearward angles.

1641056438000.png

USN

The fusion of information from many types of sensors' dispersed over a wide area that make up an integrated air defense system also degrades a stealthy aircraft's ability to remain undetected, although it is key to remember that detection does not equal the ability to engage with weapons that rely on higher-quality and persistent telemetry. So even though a stealthy aircraft may be detected momentarily or even fairly persistently, that does not mean it can be engaged by surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles. The lack of broadband low observability, like that provided by stealthy subsonic flying-wing designs that have minimal smaller appendages and features, also puts a stealthy fighter at greater risk.

No aircraft, not even one that is designed with broadband low-observability as the goal above all else, is totally invisible to radar and other sensors. Stealth means a reduced probability of detection and engagement, not invincibility. Careful route planning and high situational awareness of threats in an aircraft's vicinity are also essential to the survivability of stealthy aircraft, with the goal being to only provide the most unfavorable (detectable) aspects of the aircraft to a threatening enemy's sensor view for the least amount of time.

1641056472600.png

F-35 fires an AIM-120 AMRAAM in testing.
USAF


So, stealth is not some monolithic concept, it has many variables and degrees, and above all else, it relies on a cocktail of measures, with a low-observable design and radar-absorbent coatings being just some ingredients in that cocktail, albeit quite important ones. Other key aspects include reduced infrared signature and the ability to tightly control an aircraft's own radio frequency emissions so as to not let the enemy know of its presence. Low probability of intercept (LPI) radars and radios allow for reduced chances of being detected while still offering key functionality. They use highly directional emissions, frequency hopping, and wavelength modulation, as well as other clandestine techniques, to allow their operations to remain undetected by the enemy's surveillance equipment.

All these features are very important, but one of the most essential ingredients in the success of any stealthy combat aircraft is electronic warfare.

Electronic warfare paired with low observability is really a magic potion for survivability over the modern battlefield. Whatever weaknesses a stealthy aircraft has in its shaping and coatings can potentially be offset, to a certain degree, by the ability to wreak havoc on enemy radar and communications systems via electronic attacks. In the past, aircraft like the F-117 Nighthawk had zero electronic warfare capabilities as the technology to make such a system's emissions undetectable and not self-defeating was very limited. Instead, those aircraft relied on jamming support from other aircraft, such as EF-111 Ravens and EA-6B Prowlers, operating at standoff ranges. In practice, it was very seldom that an F-117 would venture deep into denied territory without robust jamming support. In fact, the one time it did, during Operation Allied Force two decades ago, it was shot down.

1641056496100.png

F-117 breaking away from the tanker. The aircraft would 'clean up' by retracting all its antennas and turning off anything that produces an RF emission before heading into contest territory. The F-117s were largely defenseless and blind to nearby threats and relied heavily on external jamming support.
USAF

The F-35, on the other hand, is designed with its own highly-integrated, highly-advanced AN/ASQ-239 electronic warfare system. It takes advantages of its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the antennas that are buried along the edges of its wings and control surfaces and beneath its skin. This capability allows the F-35 to 'self-escort' to the target area and back, taking on enemy emitters electronically that it may have trouble staying far enough away from to evade detection entirely. This same electronic warfare suite and the jet's high degree of sensor fusion offers F-35 pilots the ability make rapid decisions regarding their survivability on the fly. They can decide to destroy threatening emitters that may pop-up in their way, and new weapons are being developed to do this quickly and over relatively long ranges, or to avoid the threat entirely if possible, or to try to blind and confuse it via electronic attacks, allowing the F-35 to sneak by unscathed.


This electronic warfare capability gives the jet an enhanced degree of survivability and helps offset reliance on its low-observable design alone, which does have its weaknesses. Beyond being optimized to defeat higher-frequency fire control radars, like those that operate on and around the X band, the rear of the F-35 has been a bit controversial as its perceived radar cross-section is larger than some would like, possibly leaving it vulnerable to detection and even engagement from rear aspects. Quite honestly, I haven't seen this really disputed, but as we discussed above, weaknesses in an aircraft's low-observable design don't mean it is totally vulnerable. While the F-35 may have shortcomings in terms of detectability to certain radars and from certain aspects, it seems Lockheed and their partners have come up with novel ways to help fill in the gaps.

One of the Joint Strike Fighter's tricks that has remained largely in the shadows is the inclusion of an internal towed decoy system—one that has "little buddies" that are wicked smart to boot. We know for a fact that the F-35 is capable of deploying a specially-built version of advanced electronic warfare-enabled towed decoy known as the ALE-70.

The ALE-50 and electronic warfare-enabled ALE-55 are currently in service with the USAF and U.S. Navy. The first generation-variant of the ALE-50 towed decoy was unreeled out behind an aircraft and basically gave threatening air defense systems a much larger and more enticing target to attack than the host aircraft itself. As a result, the missile would home in on the decoy and blow it off its wire instead of destroying jet itself. During various operations, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the system worked incredibly well and clearly saved many lives and aircraft. Maybe the best look at the system in action was in Dan Hampton's memoir Viper Pilot, which I highly suggest you read.
Since then, little buddies have morphed from decoy target to advanced electronic warfare-enabled extensions of the plane's own self-protection suite. The ALE-55 that is reeled out from the center of the Super Hornet's belly is capable of jamming enemy emitters in an effort to keeping them from locking onto the aircraft, or directly executing electronic attacks on an emitter that has already locked on, or goading a missile into attacking it instead of the aircraft if an attack is already underway.

1641056558300.png

BAE Systems (main image), Wikicommons (inset)
ALE-55 system.


Sometimes these modes of operation are aptly referred to suppress, deflect, and seduce. This is done via a range of guileful electronic warfare programs the decoy can employ in concert with the jet's self-defense suite. An aircraft-mounted control unit sends the specific signals to the decoy over a fiber-optic line. Once at the decoy, those signals are translated into radio frequency emissions. The ALE-50's electronic systems were self-contained in the expendable decoy itself, making them far less capable.

The towed fiber-optic decoy arrangement makes for a highly capable, fully tailorable, and rapidly adjustable response to a whole range of threats. For instance, the decoy can first try to generally jam a radar that is in search mode, then it can try to attack it directly to break its lock once it locks on. Then, if a missile locks on in flight, the decoy can instantly turn into a juicy target, or even targets, misdirecting the missile away from the aircraft.

1641056577000.png

Raytheon
Concept art of a Hornet with ALE-50 in tow.


Clearly, these "little buddies" are vicious, but beloved helpers to have along on a mission. Aircraft with 'doghouses' built-in to deploy these types of decoys usually carry between four and eight of depending on the design. Other aircraft, like the F-16, have the doghouses built into their weapons pylons.

1641056606300.png

MKFI/wikicommons
ALE-50 housing on a Block 50 F-16.



A version of the ALQ-184 electronic warfare pod also has towed decoys built in, offering a broader spectrum of tactics for protecting the aircraft it is attached to.

1641056629400.png

Raytheon
ALQ-184 equipped with towed decoys.


On the F-35, its ALE-70s seem to be deployed via a trapdoor that pops open on the right underside of its fuselage, aft of the weapons bay and infrared countermeasures doors. Supposedly, at least four ALE-70s can be carried at a time in the drop-down enclosure.

1641056658100.png

Lockheed Martin
The towed decoy deployment door is located just aft of the dual flip-open infrared countermeasures dispenser door.


1641056675900.png

unknown
This rare image appears to show the towed decoy door open.


Budget documents not only confirm the ALE-70's existence, but also the fact that it is accommodated internally on the F-35. A line item within the USAF's 2017 budget states:
"The ALE-70 Towed Decoy is a countermeasures dispenser system designed to fit into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft. The ALE-70 provides aircraft self-protection against radar guided missiles."

1641056708300.png

DoD

ALE-70 is also listed in the Navy's budget from the same year, along with the aircraft's other countermeasures. It is worth noting that various flares and infrared countermeasures, as well as the ALE-70s, are the aircraft's only listed expendable countermeasures. Chaff, which is used to blind and confuse enemy radar, is not included in the F-35's countermeasures suite. This makes some sense as low-observability, the aircraft's highly advanced and deeply integrated electronic warfare system, and the ALE-70 offers enhanced survivability against radar and radar-guided threats. Still, it is interesting that chaff was indeed omitted.

The budget document reads:

"F-35 COUNTERMEASURES: Includes all unique countermeasures that provide self-protection for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, specifically ALE-70, MJU-68, MJU-69 and CCU-168. In addition to F-35unique countermeasures, MJU-61 and MJU-64 are also used for F-35 self-protection."
1641056738100.png

DoD

We also have an updated unit cost for the ALE-70 from the Pentagon's 2020 budget request, which comes in at $56,375. Not cheap, but hardly expensive compared to the loss of a $100M F-35 and its pilot.

Considering the F-35's already potent electronic warfare capabilities, you can just imagine how the advanced electronic-warfare capable towed decoy could be used by the jet in combat. If a radar system threatens the aircraft and it cannot be avoided via a course change or attacked directly, reeling out an ALE-70 would probably give the F-35 the best chances of survival, especially if a missile launch was already detected. The decoys could also help when it comes to mitigating the aircraft's rear radar cross-section. As it flees from a target area, unwinding an ALE-70 would definitely give enemy radar operators a much harder task of successfully targeting the aircraft, let alone bringing it down.

Also, when operating in a non-stealthy configuration with external stores, the advanced towed decoys will give the F-35 a means to better defend itself against pop-up threats, such as road-mobile surface-to-air missile systems or even enemy fighters.

And above all else, towed decoys will be incredibly important when operating in the Wild Weasel role—the mission of taking on enemy air defenses directly—something the F-35 is supposed to be incredibly adept at already.

An astute Wild Weasel F-35 driver could work with his or her wingmen to act as both the hunter and the prey. ALE-70s could be reeled out to turn one stealthy F-35 into the most enticing target imaginable for enemy air defenders. Meanwhile, another F-35, operating in full stealth mode, would be waiting to geolocate the enemy's radar emissions once they take the bait. At which time that F-35 would proceed to pummel the threatening emitter or air defense system to death.

1641056756100.png

USAF

USAF F-16CJ Wild Weasel pilots were among the first to put the little buddy to work, they know full well how capable it is and how it could be used in concert with a stealthy airframe to really ruin an enemy radar operator's day. This will allow F-35s to more easily clear a path for other assets, including older and more vulnerable 4th generation fighters and non-stealthy bombers, many of which also have their own towed decoys to watch their backs.

1641056792000.png

Tyler Rogoway/Author
The B-1B was one of the first aircraft to get towed decoys. Notice the doghouses on either side of the tail.


Similar tactics can be used in the air-to-air arena, with the ALE-70 acting to sucker-in enemy fighters or to make phantom formations of aircraft appear on their radar scopes. Then, once they have committed to an engagement, the F-35 reels-in its decoy and disappears and the enemy fighters find themselves outflanked by other F-35s with missiles locked on and inbound.

So, you can see just how awesome a feature this is to have built into a stealthy airframe. It offers maximum tactical flexibility, will keep the enemy guessing, and will even make them outright vulnerable without them ever knowing they had been had before it is too late. Above all else, it gives the F-35 another layer of protection that will keep it survivable even if its stealthy shape and radar-absorbent coatings become less effective on the battlefield in the decades to come.

Little buddies—now quietly paling around with the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Contact the author: [email protected]
 

Khafee

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F-35's Most Sinister Capability Are Towed Decoys That Unreel From Inside Its Stealthy Skin

These "little buddies" not only protect the jet, but they can be used creatively to goad the enemy into showing itself and dying as a result.
By Tyler Rogoway
March 28, 2019

View attachment 18826

One of the least talked about, but most potent capabilities that can enhance the survivability of a combat aircraft these days is the ability to deploy towed decoys. Often referred to as "little buddies" by the crews that bet their lives on them, they have existed in miniature form for over two decades on aircraft like the F-16C/D, B-1B, and F/A-18E/F, as well as foreign fighter aircraft. But most wouldn't think such a system would be included in a 5th generation fighter that was designed from the ground up to evade enemy radars. This isn't the case. Although it isn't something touted by the manufacturer or its operators, the F-35 has this capability concealed beneath its curvaceous and stealthy skin.

First off, you are probably thinking that the inclusion of such a system in the F-35's design is a sign of weakness in its stealth capabilities. Maybe it could be framed in such a manner, but doing so really doesn't do the topic justice and it wouldn't be fair to the F-35 either.

Stealth fighters, as we know them today, are not highly optimized to evade a broad range of radar types. Instead, they are optimized to give fire control radars used to actually engage targets, as well as detect them in many cases, a very tough time. The classic appendages of a fighter aircraft—nose, tail surfaces, exhaust nozzles, and even wings—do not lend themselves to broadband radio frequency low-observability, but they are conducive to maneuverability and speed. So, while aircraft like the F-35 are effective at hiding from the most threatening radar types, and especially when viewed by those sensors from certain aspects, with the frontal-hemisphere profile being most optimized, they are less adept from doing the same when it comes to radars operating at lower frequencies or when viewed from rearward angles.

View attachment 18827
USN

The fusion of information from many types of sensors' dispersed over a wide area that make up an integrated air defense system also degrades a stealthy aircraft's ability to remain undetected, although it is key to remember that detection does not equal the ability to engage with weapons that rely on higher-quality and persistent telemetry. So even though a stealthy aircraft may be detected momentarily or even fairly persistently, that does not mean it can be engaged by surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles. The lack of broadband low observability, like that provided by stealthy subsonic flying-wing designs that have minimal smaller appendages and features, also puts a stealthy fighter at greater risk.

No aircraft, not even one that is designed with broadband low-observability as the goal above all else, is totally invisible to radar and other sensors. Stealth means a reduced probability of detection and engagement, not invincibility. Careful route planning and high situational awareness of threats in an aircraft's vicinity are also essential to the survivability of stealthy aircraft, with the goal being to only provide the most unfavorable (detectable) aspects of the aircraft to a threatening enemy's sensor view for the least amount of time.

View attachment 18828
F-35 fires an AIM-120 AMRAAM in testing.
USAF


So, stealth is not some monolithic concept, it has many variables and degrees, and above all else, it relies on a cocktail of measures, with a low-observable design and radar-absorbent coatings being just some ingredients in that cocktail, albeit quite important ones. Other key aspects include reduced infrared signature and the ability to tightly control an aircraft's own radio frequency emissions so as to not let the enemy know of its presence. Low probability of intercept (LPI) radars and radios allow for reduced chances of being detected while still offering key functionality. They use highly directional emissions, frequency hopping, and wavelength modulation, as well as other clandestine techniques, to allow their operations to remain undetected by the enemy's surveillance equipment.

All these features are very important, but one of the most essential ingredients in the success of any stealthy combat aircraft is electronic warfare.

Electronic warfare paired with low observability is really a magic potion for survivability over the modern battlefield. Whatever weaknesses a stealthy aircraft has in its shaping and coatings can potentially be offset, to a certain degree, by the ability to wreak havoc on enemy radar and communications systems via electronic attacks. In the past, aircraft like the F-117 Nighthawk had zero electronic warfare capabilities as the technology to make such a system's emissions undetectable and not self-defeating was very limited. Instead, those aircraft relied on jamming support from other aircraft, such as EF-111 Ravens and EA-6B Prowlers, operating at standoff ranges. In practice, it was very seldom that an F-117 would venture deep into denied territory without robust jamming support. In fact, the one time it did, during Operation Allied Force two decades ago, it was shot down.

View attachment 18829
F-117 breaking away from the tanker. The aircraft would 'clean up' by retracting all its antennas and turning off anything that produces an RF emission before heading into contest territory. The F-117s were largely defenseless and blind to nearby threats and relied heavily on external jamming support.
USAF


The F-35, on the other hand, is designed with its own highly-integrated, highly-advanced AN/ASQ-239 electronic warfare system. It takes advantages of its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the antennas that are buried along the edges of its wings and control surfaces and beneath its skin. This capability allows the F-35 to 'self-escort' to the target area and back, taking on enemy emitters electronically that it may have trouble staying far enough away from to evade detection entirely. This same electronic warfare suite and the jet's high degree of sensor fusion offers F-35 pilots the ability make rapid decisions regarding their survivability on the fly. They can decide to destroy threatening emitters that may pop-up in their way, and new weapons are being developed to do this quickly and over relatively long ranges, or to avoid the threat entirely if possible, or to try to blind and confuse it via electronic attacks, allowing the F-35 to sneak by unscathed.


This electronic warfare capability gives the jet an enhanced degree of survivability and helps offset reliance on its low-observable design alone, which does have its weaknesses. Beyond being optimized to defeat higher-frequency fire control radars, like those that operate on and around the X band, the rear of the F-35 has been a bit controversial as its perceived radar cross-section is larger than some would like, possibly leaving it vulnerable to detection and even engagement from rear aspects. Quite honestly, I haven't seen this really disputed, but as we discussed above, weaknesses in an aircraft's low-observable design don't mean it is totally vulnerable. While the F-35 may have shortcomings in terms of detectability to certain radars and from certain aspects, it seems Lockheed and their partners have come up with novel ways to help fill in the gaps.

One of the Joint Strike Fighter's tricks that has remained largely in the shadows is the inclusion of an internal towed decoy system—one that has "little buddies" that are wicked smart to boot. We know for a fact that the F-35 is capable of deploying a specially-built version of advanced electronic warfare-enabled towed decoy known as the ALE-70.

The ALE-50 and electronic warfare-enabled ALE-55 are currently in service with the USAF and U.S. Navy. The first generation-variant of the ALE-50 towed decoy was unreeled out behind an aircraft and basically gave threatening air defense systems a much larger and more enticing target to attack than the host aircraft itself. As a result, the missile would home in on the decoy and blow it off its wire instead of destroying jet itself. During various operations, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the system worked incredibly well and clearly saved many lives and aircraft. Maybe the best look at the system in action was in Dan Hampton's memoir Viper Pilot, which I highly suggest you read.
Since then, little buddies have morphed from decoy target to advanced electronic warfare-enabled extensions of the plane's own self-protection suite. The ALE-55 that is reeled out from the center of the Super Hornet's belly is capable of jamming enemy emitters in an effort to keeping them from locking onto the aircraft, or directly executing electronic attacks on an emitter that has already locked on, or goading a missile into attacking it instead of the aircraft if an attack is already underway.

View attachment 18830
BAE Systems (main image), Wikicommons (inset)
ALE-55 system.


Sometimes these modes of operation are aptly referred to suppress, deflect, and seduce. This is done via a range of guileful electronic warfare programs the decoy can employ in concert with the jet's self-defense suite. An aircraft-mounted control unit sends the specific signals to the decoy over a fiber-optic line. Once at the decoy, those signals are translated into radio frequency emissions. The ALE-50's electronic systems were self-contained in the expendable decoy itself, making them far less capable.

The towed fiber-optic decoy arrangement makes for a highly capable, fully tailorable, and rapidly adjustable response to a whole range of threats. For instance, the decoy can first try to generally jam a radar that is in search mode, then it can try to attack it directly to break its lock once it locks on. Then, if a missile locks on in flight, the decoy can instantly turn into a juicy target, or even targets, misdirecting the missile away from the aircraft.

View attachment 18831
Raytheon
Concept art of a Hornet with ALE-50 in tow.


Clearly, these "little buddies" are vicious, but beloved helpers to have along on a mission. Aircraft with 'doghouses' built-in to deploy these types of decoys usually carry between four and eight of depending on the design. Other aircraft, like the F-16, have the doghouses built into their weapons pylons.

View attachment 18832
MKFI/wikicommons
ALE-50 housing on a Block 50 F-16.



A version of the ALQ-184 electronic warfare pod also has towed decoys built in, offering a broader spectrum of tactics for protecting the aircraft it is attached to.

View attachment 18833
Raytheon
ALQ-184 equipped with towed decoys.


On the F-35, its ALE-70s seem to be deployed via a trapdoor that pops open on the right underside of its fuselage, aft of the weapons bay and infrared countermeasures doors. Supposedly, at least four ALE-70s can be carried at a time in the drop-down enclosure.

View attachment 18834
Lockheed Martin
The towed decoy deployment door is located just aft of the dual flip-open infrared countermeasures dispenser door.


View attachment 18835
unknown
This rare image appears to show the towed decoy door open.


Budget documents not only confirm the ALE-70's existence, but also the fact that it is accommodated internally on the F-35. A line item within the USAF's 2017 budget states:


View attachment 18836
DoD

ALE-70 is also listed in the Navy's budget from the same year, along with the aircraft's other countermeasures. It is worth noting that various flares and infrared countermeasures, as well as the ALE-70s, are the aircraft's only listed expendable countermeasures. Chaff, which is used to blind and confuse enemy radar, is not included in the F-35's countermeasures suite. This makes some sense as low-observability, the aircraft's highly advanced and deeply integrated electronic warfare system, and the ALE-70 offers enhanced survivability against radar and radar-guided threats. Still, it is interesting that chaff was indeed omitted.

The budget document reads:


View attachment 18837
DoD

We also have an updated unit cost for the ALE-70 from the Pentagon's 2020 budget request, which comes in at $56,375. Not cheap, but hardly expensive compared to the loss of a $100M F-35 and its pilot.

Considering the F-35's already potent electronic warfare capabilities, you can just imagine how the advanced electronic-warfare capable towed decoy could be used by the jet in combat. If a radar system threatens the aircraft and it cannot be avoided via a course change or attacked directly, reeling out an ALE-70 would probably give the F-35 the best chances of survival, especially if a missile launch was already detected. The decoys could also help when it comes to mitigating the aircraft's rear radar cross-section. As it flees from a target area, unwinding an ALE-70 would definitely give enemy radar operators a much harder task of successfully targeting the aircraft, let alone bringing it down.

Also, when operating in a non-stealthy configuration with external stores, the advanced towed decoys will give the F-35 a means to better defend itself against pop-up threats, such as road-mobile surface-to-air missile systems or even enemy fighters.

And above all else, towed decoys will be incredibly important when operating in the Wild Weasel role—the mission of taking on enemy air defenses directly—something the F-35 is supposed to be incredibly adept at already.

An astute Wild Weasel F-35 driver could work with his or her wingmen to act as both the hunter and the prey. ALE-70s could be reeled out to turn one stealthy F-35 into the most enticing target imaginable for enemy air defenders. Meanwhile, another F-35, operating in full stealth mode, would be waiting to geolocate the enemy's radar emissions once they take the bait. At which time that F-35 would proceed to pummel the threatening emitter or air defense system to death.

View attachment 18838
USAF

USAF F-16CJ Wild Weasel pilots were among the first to put the little buddy to work, they know full well how capable it is and how it could be used in concert with a stealthy airframe to really ruin an enemy radar operator's day. This will allow F-35s to more easily clear a path for other assets, including older and more vulnerable 4th generation fighters and non-stealthy bombers, many of which also have their own towed decoys to watch their backs.

View attachment 18839
Tyler Rogoway/Author
The B-1B was one of the first aircraft to get towed decoys. Notice the doghouses on either side of the tail.


Similar tactics can be used in the air-to-air arena, with the ALE-70 acting to sucker-in enemy fighters or to make phantom formations of aircraft appear on their radar scopes. Then, once they have committed to an engagement, the F-35 reels-in its decoy and disappears and the enemy fighters find themselves outflanked by other F-35s with missiles locked on and inbound.

So, you can see just how awesome a feature this is to have built into a stealthy airframe. It offers maximum tactical flexibility, will keep the enemy guessing, and will even make them outright vulnerable without them ever knowing they had been had before it is too late. Above all else, it gives the F-35 another layer of protection that will keep it survivable even if its stealthy shape and radar-absorbent coatings become less effective on the battlefield in the decades to come.

Little buddies—now quietly paling around with the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Contact the author: [email protected]

There is a reason why I posted this article. Prior to it being published, the said technology was used by a non-US air force, in active combat, with spectacular results. Leaving the opponent in shambles. running for the hills.

The timming of this article tells me, that this article was published, to let the world know, what actually transpired.

Lets see who can enlighten us on this.
 

Khafee

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Infrared Search And Track Pods Spotted On USAF F-15 Eagles Based In Japan

The long-awaited arrival of infrared search and track pods represents a big capability boost for Kadena Air Base's F-15s.

By Thomas Newdick and Tyler Rogoway
December 30, 2021
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U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighters based at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, have been spotted carrying the Lockheed Martin Legion Pod, apparently for the first time. This system has an infrared search and track sensor, or IRST, which provides the pilot with a valuable new way of detecting and tracking other aircraft at long ranges, including ones that employ stealth technology to hide from radar. While the Legion Pod has been seen on test Eagles for some time now, this seems to be the first evidence that frontline F-15C/Ds overseas are now flying with the sensor.

A series of photos taken today and posted to Twitter by aviation photographer @SuneKuma01includes two views of the same F-15C, serial number 81-0050, assigned to Kadena’s 67th Fighter Squadron, with a Legion Pod under the fuselage. The 67th FS is one of two F-15C/D squadrons at Kadena, both part of the 18th Wing. The only other overseas U.S. Air Force F-15C/D unit is based in England.

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Close-up of a Legion Pod installed on an F-15.

The Air Force had previously said the pod was likely to attain initial operational capability in 2020, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the store has now appeared on a frontline Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) F-15 at Kadena. Furthermore, the Japanese facility’s strategic location in regard to China, North Korea, and Russia means it was likely to be among the first in line to get the Legion Pod.

Despite their age, the Air Force's fleet of roughly 220 F-15C/Ds are still formidable air-superiority jets, with a combat record unrivaled among other in-service fighters. Although a replacement is starting to arrive in the shape of the F-15EX, the original F-15C/Ds have been upgraded repeatedly to keep them combat-relevant.

As well as AN/APG-63(V)3 active electronically scanned array radars and new cockpit displays, the jets have received the Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP), an example of which can be seen on another jet that @SuneKuma01 photographed today. While the Sniper pod is traditionally used for air-to-ground precision strike and reconnaissance functions, the F-15C/D community adapted it for long-range visual identification purposes. In that role, it can ID aircraft day or night dozens of miles away and can be automatically slewed to radar target to do so. Still, it is not an IRST and has very limited capability in replicating an IRST's core functionality, especially the latest generation of these systems that are incredibly capable.

As for the Legion Pod with its IRST payload, you can read more about the capabilities that it offers here. Suffice it to say that it’s a tool that allows the pilot to rapidly spot and then track multiple targets well beyond visual range. The pod can also provide targeting information so the pilot can engage an enemy passively, without emitting any electromagnetic energy which can allow the hunted to detect the hunter, as is the case when using radar in many cases. The targeting data can also be combined with information from other sensors, and especially other aircraft carrying IRSTs, for a more accurate ‘fix.’

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It’s easy to see how these kinds of advantages could come into play in the Asia Pacific theater, especially during a confrontation with China. In such circumstances, there would likely be intense electronic jamming, potentially degrading the Eagle's AN/APG-63 radar. There would also be a host of potential threat sensors likely looking out for an F-15’s radar emissions. Airborne early warning and control aircraft that support F-15 operations so heavily would also be top targets. Add enemy stealth fighters into the mix, and the need for additional means to acquire and engage enemy aerial threats passively becomes even more important.

We must stress that a modern IRST's ability to find targets that leverage radio-frequency low-observability (radar stealth) as a primary design driver, such as stealthy fighters, drones, bombers, and especially cruise missiles, would put this system in extremely high demand for Kadena's Eagles. The island airbase itself would be a target of many of these capabilities during a conflict with China. The threat posed by low-flying stealthy cruise missiles alone has the USAF spooked, and its Eagles are now training against low observable targets in anticipation of confronting such a threat during a time of war.

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China's J-20 fighter is a prominent low-observable threat in the PACAF area of operations.

Lockheed Martin leveraged technology for the IRST21 sensor from the earlier AN/AAS-42 IRST system that was found in the F-14D Tomcat. Before the Legion Pod, the company also furnished the Tiger Eyes sensor system for certain advanced export derivatives of the F-15E Strike Eagle. The background to the current pod is something you can read more about here.

After being tested aboard an F-16, the Legion Pod began flying on an F-15C in 2016 and a year later was selected by the Air Force in favor of the rival OpenPod from Northrop Grumman. The Legion pod has since begun testing on other platforms, too, including General Atomics’ stealthy Avenger drone.

At the same time, the IRST21 is being adopted by the U.S. Navy, with Block III F/A-18E/F Super Hornet receiving the same sensor in a modified centerline drop tank. An earlier version of the Navy's own similar IRST system has already been deployed aboard carriers and flown on missionsover the Middle East. The IRST21 is also incorporated in the Air Force's Talon HATEcommunications node pod and will likely be a major sensor for various drone programs that are been spun up now.

The Legion Pod is an open-architecture design with extra space to include additional capabilities, which means that other sensors and payloads can be added in the future. With this in mind, Kadena Eagles could eventually use the same pods to carry other capabilities, like electronic warfare or communications equipment, while also retaining the IRST in some cases. Work has already begun to add a data link to the pod, allowing two IRST-equipped F-15Cs to determine the range of a given target “near instantaneously” via triangulation.

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A Lockheed Martin diagram showing data-linked Legion Pods.

The potential for the Legion Pod to share data between jets for more accurate firing solutions and enhanced situational awareness speaks to another advantage of the store. Ultimately, it will serve to boost connectivity between F-15s and also help share information from multiple sources as a significant battlefield force multiplier.

All in all, the Kadena Eagle community getting their hands on the long-awaited IRST-equipped Legion Pods is significant. The base’s location also provides an ideal environment to test the pod over land and sea, and it seems certain that we will be seeing a lot more of these new stores in the future, both on Kadena Eagles at home in Okinawa, and Eagles deployed to different theaters around the world, as well as right here in the United States for homeland air sovereignty missions.

Contact the author: [email protected]
 

rhinosqdn

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There is a reason why I posted this article. Prior to it being published, the said technology was used by a non-US air force, in active combat, with spectacular results. Leaving the opponent in shambles. running for the hills.

The timming of this article tells me, that this article was published, to let the world know, what actually transpired.

Lets see who can enlighten us on this.
PAF in Feb 2019
 

A123

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I am sure not many people know of this incidence wherein this Hellfire ended up in Cuba (wrongly shipped) from Spain. This was destined to Florida but somehow ended up in the wrong flight.

Albeit Cuba returned it, but it was in their possession for nearly 30 days. I am sure some Russians/Chinese/North Koreans had good inspection of it.

This is 5 years ago (weird happening) though:

Opera Snapshot_2022-01-03_054458_en.wikipedia.org.png
 

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I am sure not many people know of this incidence wherein this Hellfire ended up in Cuba (wrongly shipped) from Spain. This was destined to Florida but somehow ended up in the wrong flight.

Albeit Cuba returned it, but it was in their possession for nearly 30 days. I am sure some Russians/Chinese/North Koreans had good inspection of it.

This is 5 years ago (weird happening) though:

View attachment 18901
I remember an incident where it ended up in Cuba, but did not know that it was shipped from Spain |0|

 

A123

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No.

Its called environmental protective cover or a frangible glass dome or an optical dome. This is to protect the seeker against dust or other elements that can diminish the seeker's performance.

It is discarded prior to launch though.
 

Gripen9

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PAF in Feb 2019
Was it deployed via F-16s or do the JF-17 have similar to ALE-50 decoys?
The "in pylon" MAWS + chaff/flare dispensers are a novel way to retrofit in older aircraft.
 
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