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rec.aviation.military Frequently Asked Questions (part 2 of 5)

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Archive-Name: mil-aviation-faq/part2
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Last-Modified: 20-Nov-1994

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
             REC.AVIATION.MILITARY FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
                 Ross Smith <avfaq@meanmach.actrix.gen.nz>


Subject: B.14. X-32 The X-32 started life as ARPA's ASTOVL (Advanced Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing) project, intended as a technology demonstrator to lead to a supersonic successor to the Harrier. This later became CALF (Common Advanced Lightweight Fighter), a more general demonstrator for a future lightweight fighter. The UK is also involved in the project, putting up about one third of the money. The design has been made small enough for service on Royal Navy carriers. Lockheed has been contracted to build at least two prototypes of the CALF, now designated X-32, in two variants. There will be a CTOL version for the USAF (and possibly RAF), and a V/STOL version (with a lift fan replacing one of the fuel tanks) for the USN and USMC (and possibly RN). The X-32 is a single-seat, single-engine, fly-by-wire aircraft with a canard delta configuration (similar to Eurofighter, Rafale, and Gripen). The aircraft incorporates many components from the F-22, including stealth features and supercruise. Weapons will be carried internally. First flight (CTOL version) is expected about 1998. Lockheed hope to build a number of prototypes for full evaluation by each of the three services, and eventual development into a service aircraft.
Subject: B.15. Yakovlev Yak-41/141 "Freestyle" Design of the Yak-41 (or possibly Yak-141; see below) began in 1975; the first prototype flew in March 1987, followed by a second in April 1989. Tests were conducted on the aircraft carrier _Admiral Gorshkov_. In April 1991, one of the prototypes set several records for VTOL aircraft; it was displayed at the Paris Air Show shortly afterwards. One prototype was lost in a crash (attributed to pilot error) on the carrier in November 1991, after which development was suspended (due to lack of funds rather than any problems with the aircraft); the surviving aircraft was mothballed. Yakovlev have recently announced their intention to restart development of the Yak-41, apparently as a result of renewed interest from the Russian Ministry of Defence (a similar revival of the twin-turboprop Yak-44 AEW aircraft is also being considered). A more advanced version, the Yak-41M (Yak-141M?), has also been designed, with the emphasis now on Air Force rather than Navy service. This version has an extensively modified airframe, with a strong emphasis on stealth (there is a distinct resemblance to the F-22), a much more powerful engine, and more fuel and payload. The "Freestyle" has been referred to as both Yak-41 and Yak-141; it appears that one designation refers to the standard fighter and one to the single prototype modified for record attempts, but there seems to be some uncertainty as to which is which. Vital statistics (Yak-41/141?): length 18.36 m, span 10.11 m, empty weight 11650 kg, max weight 19500 kg, max speed 1800 km/h (Mach 1.7), range 2100 km; power plant: one 152.00 kN Soyuz R-97V-30 augmented turbofan, two RD-41 lift jets; armament: 30mm cannon, 5 hardpoints, max external load 2600 kg.
Subject: C.1. Why is the "stealth fighter" called F-117 instead of F-19? Nobody really knows for sure. It's been suggested, and sounds plausible (but there's no real evidence), that it was called F-19 to start with, but the number was changed as a security measure after the open press started using that designation in the early 1980s (the aircraft first flew in 1981, but wasn't revealed to the public until 1988). Why they picked F-117 as the new number is a mystery; there are three main theories, any of them fairly plausible. The first theory has it that the "stealth fighter" (actually it's a bomber; see below) was flying from the same bases as the small fleet of captured Russian aircraft that the USAF flies; these are believed to use the nonexistent designations "F-112", "F-113" and so on as a cover, and the F-117 just happened to be the next number in sequence. The second theory claims that the aircraft was using the call sign "117" (possibly for reasons connected with the above, or possibly just an arbitrarily assigned number) on some of its early test flights, and the number just happened to stick (presumably for lack of any other designation); when Lockheed got around to printing pilot's manuals for the aircraft, they were labelled "F-117", and from then on it became official. The third theory is that there isn't any reason; the Pentagon just picked a number at random. The mythical "F-19" may have been part of a "leak identification" project; it's common practice in many "black" projects to create several false stories and track down leaks by watching to see which one gets out. There's also the separate question of why it was given an F-series (fighter) designation at all, when it's clearly a light bomber with essentially zero air-to-air capability; it should have an A-series (attack) or B-series (bomber) number. Again, the Pentagon isn't telling, but a favourite theory here on the Net is that the USAF, being dominated by former fighter pilots, couldn't bear the idea of its most glamorous plane having anything but a fighter designation... The F-117 has been popularly known as "Nighthawk" for some time; the Air Force made the name official on 24 June 1994.
Subject: C.2. Does the USAF have a hypersonic spyplane called "Aurora"? Maybe. Here's the evidence. In 1985, a censor's error let an item labelled "Aurora", with no further explanation, appear in that year's Pentagon budget request, with a reference to "production funding" for 1987. It was located next to the operating budgets for the SR-71 and U-2. The Pentagon refused to comment on the item, and it has never been mentioned since. In 1986, the US government sealed off large areas of land around the top secret Groom Lake base in Nevada. Many new buildings have been built at Groom Lake during the 1980s, and intense activity continues. The government is currently (mid 1994) in the process of taking over more large areas of land around the base, in order to make it impossible to observe the base from publicly accessible land. The extensive security measures imply that some very important and very secret activity is going on there. Officially, the USAF won't even admit that the base exists. In February 1988, the _New York Times_ reported that the USAF was working on a stealthy reconnaissance aircraft capable of Mach 6. The story was attributed to "Pentagon sources". In August 1989, Chris Gibson, an oil exploration engineer and former member of the Royal Observer Corps, was working on an oil rig in the North Sea when he saw an unusual formation of aircraft pass overhead. It consisted of a KC-135 tanker, two F-111s, and a fourth aircraft of a type that Gibson (an expert on aircraft recognition) had never seen before. Seen from below, it appeared to be a perfect triangle, slightly larger than the escorting F-111s, with a leading edge sweep angle of about 75 degrees. It was completely black, with no visible details (unlike the F-111s), and appeared to be taking on fuel from the KC-135. In early 1990 the USAF retired its fleet of SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft; the official reason given was that satellites could now perform all strategic reconnaissance missions required by the Pentagon. Many observers consider this explanation to be suspicious, for several reasons. First, satellites exist in limited numbers and fixed, predictable orbits; surely there will always be a requirement for high-speed reconnaissance missions at short notice, which could only be performed by an aircraft like the SR-71. Second, the cost of running the SR-71 fleet was only about 7 per cent of what the Pentagon spends on satellites; it would still be a good investment even if only as an emergency backup. Third, the USAF never raised the slightest objection to the plan to replace manned aircraft with unmanned satellites, which is highly unusual behaviour for an organisation composed almost entirely of pilots. At about the same time, _Aviation Week_ carried reports from witnesses who had heard an incredibly loud aircraft taking off from Edwards Air Force Base in California late at night. Some of them referred to a pulsing sound with a period of about one second. On several occasions from June 1991 to June 1992, sonic booms were heard over southern California. They were not produced by any officially acknowledged military flight (which are always careful to remain subsonic over urban areas). The booms were powerful enough to show up on the seismographs operated by the US Geological Service, and the times of arrival of the sound at various points allowed fairly accurate calculation of the course and speed of the aircraft responsible; the USGS had already demonstrated this by tracking incoming space shuttles. The aircraft were headed northeast, over Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, towards either the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada or the nearby Groom Lake base. The speeds involved ranged from Mach 3 to Mach 4. In February 1992, _The Scotsman_ reported that an RAF air traffic controller, in November 1991, had seen a radar blip emerge from the base at Machrihanish, Scotland, and quickly accelerate to Mach 3. When he called Machrihanish to ask what had happened, he was told to forget it. In May 1992, a photographer snapped some strange contrails over Amarillo, Texas; the trails appeared to have been produced by a high-speed aircraft, and resembled "doughnuts on a rope". A few days later, similar trails were reported over Machrihanish. All this appears to add up to a hypersonic aircraft, with a cruising speed around Mach 6, being operated by the USAF from Groom Lake, Nevada, Edwards AFB, California, and Machrihanish, Scotland, since about 1988 (Machrihanish, by the way, is due to be closed in 1995). The aircraft described by Chris Gibson matches several design studies of hypersonic aircraft in the 1970s and 80s, which came up with a triangular planform with a sweep angle of 75 degrees. The engines appear to be rocket based combined cycle (RBCC) engines, an advanced hybrid of turbojet, ramjet, and rocket. Unclassified studies from the US, Japan, and Russia have investigated RBCC engines for hypersonic propulsion; such engines would be extremely loud on take-off, would produce a pulsing sound with a frequency on the order of one second, would leave contrails resembling "doughnuts on a rope", and should theoretically have a maximum speed not far above Mach 6. The most likely fuel for an RBCC engine would be methane; given the assumptions of methane-fuelled RBCC engines, Mach 6 cruising speed, and intercontinental range, the resulting aircraft would indeed be about the size of an F-111. Does this aircraft exist? We don't know for certain, but the circumstantial evidence is certainly persuasive. Incidentally, the aircraft (if it exists) is almost certainly not called Aurora. Even if the mystery item in the 1985 budget did refer to this project, the name would probably have been changed after the security leak. But Aurora is the only name anyone has, so we continue to use it as a convenient label. Recently (mid 1994) there are moves afoot in the US Senate to reactivate three SR-71 aircraft (possibly in connection with the Korean situation). It was reported (from what sources is unclear) that the Blackbird successor programme had collapsed "after consuming several hundred million dollars". This has been interpreted by some to suggest that the "Aurora" was a failure. Ben Rich, who replaced Kelly Johnson as the head of Lockheed's "Skunk Works" and was responsible for the F-117) recently wrote a book (sorry, I don't have the title or publisher) in which he stated that "Aurora" was the codename for Lockheed's entry in the ATB contest, lost to Northrop's B-2 (see section B.11). I'm told that the book is careful to make no mention of any SR-71 successor, either to support or refute the idea. The best we can say at the moment is that the mystery remains open... [Most of this information comes from Bill Sweetman's book _Aurora_]
Subject: C.3. What's a TR-3? A report in _Aviation Week and Space Technology_ in mid 1991 described a "triangular flying wing" reconnaissance aircraft, developed by Northrop (now Northrop Grumman) from 1982, designated TR-3A and nicknamed "Black Manta". According to the report, the aircraft had a length of about 13 metres, wingspan of about 19 metres, and a range of 5600 kilometres; it had been deployed for trials to Alaska, Okinawa, Panama, and the UK, and a few had been employed in Desert Storm in the reconnaissance role. The aircraft was apparently developed from a Northrop technology demonstrator known as THAP (Tactical High Altitude Penetrator), which first flew in 1981 and was similar in design, but slightly smaller. After this report, however, nothing more was heard of the TR-3 for two years. In 1993, Steve Douglass, an amateur "stealth watcher" who keeps an eye on the USAF's "black" programmes for a hobby, took a videotape of an aircraft landing at White Sands Missile Range. Enhancement of the image revealed a formerly unknown aircraft, almost certainly the TR-3. Apart from having a curved trailing edge, it resembled a scaled-down B-2 (or a Horten IX; see section E.1). It appears to be a single-seat, twin-engine, approximately triangular flying wing, which fits the description given in the earlier report. You can find more details, including an artist's impression based on the video images, in the February 1994 issue of _Wired_. Of the various "black" aircraft supposed to be flown by the USAF (see also section C.2), more solid evidence exists for the TR-3 than any other, and its existence seems virtually certain. Although it's difficult to judge the exact size of the aircraft from Douglass's image, the dimensions quoted in the original report are plausible.
Subject: C.4. Why wasn't the B-1 or B-2 used in Desert Storm? The B-1s weren't used for several reasons. First, their primary mission is (or was at the time) strategic nuclear strike; Pentagon policy was to keep them in the United States as part of the strategic triad. Second, at the time (January 1991) the B-1s had not yet been fully cleared for tactical operations with conventional weapons. Third, there was no need for them -- the aircraft already available, notably B-52s and F-117s, were perfectly capable of the required missions, and sending B-1s over wouldn't have added enough capability to be worth the extra maintenance involved. Fourth, in late 1990 most of the B-1 fleet was grounded anyway, due to engine problems. No B-2s were in service at the time; only a single prototype was flying.
Subject: C.5. Is fighter X better than fighter Y? This is the kind of question that gets discussed all the time, but doesn't really have an answer. First, best for what? Every fighter is designed with a particular set of requirements in mind. "Fighter" is a fairly general term that covers a multitude of missions. A Tornado F.3 or a MiG-31 is an excellent long-range interceptor, but you wouldn't want to send one of them up against an F-16 or an Su-27 in a dogfight. Second, the aircraft itself isn't the only factor involved, or even the most important one. Put two aircraft of similar (or even somewhat different) capabilities up against each other, and by far the most important factor is the relative skills of the two pilots. It's widely believed that superior pilot training was the main reason why American F-86 Sabres consistently gained air superiority over technically superior Russian MiG-15s in the Korean War. Third, even apparently identical fighters can differ enormously in their electronics fit; and in modern fighters, the electronics is at least as important (not to mention expensive) as the airframe. Export versions of fighters are normally much less capable in the electronic sphere than the equivalent models for the home air force, even when the aircraft have the same designation; does anyone expect the F-16Cs exported to, say, Egypt to be anywhere near the capability of the F-16Cs in USAF service? Older aircraft can be upgraded to modern electronic standards at a fraction of the cost of new fighters, an option increasingly popular in these days of tightened defence budgets (for example, the RNZAF recently upgraded its Skyhawk fleet with a radar and avionics suite equivalent to that of the F-16A). Most of the modern generation of fighters are fairly similar in performance. Leaving out specialised interceptors such as the Tornado and MiG-31 mentioned above, if almost any two modern fighters came up against each other in a dogfight, pilot skill would certainly be the main deciding factor. We can (and certainly will) argue endlessly about the relative merits of, say, F-16 vs Sea Harrier, or F-22 vs Su-35 (both the subject of recent discussion on this newsgroup; Harriers versus conventional fighters is a particularly hardy perennial), and there are real differences there; but such technical details are not the most important thing in combat.
Subject: C.6. Why was the YF-22 chosen over the YF-23? When the Lockheed YF-22 and Northrop YF-23 were unveiled in 1990, it was generally believed that the two companies had made different trade-offs among the various design requirements. The YF-23 appeared to be optimised for stealth, with its trapezoidal wings, butterfly tail, and generally futuristic appearance (the distinct resemblance to the fictional "Firefox" attracted a lot of comments). The YF-22, on the other hand, had a more conventional appearance; although it was obviously designed with stealth in mind, there was a definite resemblance to the F-15 it was intended to replace, and the impression was of an aircraft designed for manoeuvrability first and stealth second. The YF-22 had thrust-vectoring jet nozzles, while those of the YF-23 were designed to hide the engines' infrared signature from below. In April 1991, the YF-22 was selected for production. According to the USAF, neither aircraft showed any clear advantage in either manoeuvrability or stealth. The reasons given for the choice were that the Lockheed aircraft was better designed for maintainability, had more potential for future development, and was slightly cheaper. An unconfirmed report has it that one factor was the fact that the YF-23 had its internal AAMs "stacked" in its bays, while the YF-22's missiles each had a bay to themselves; this meant that, on the YF-23, a malfunction in one launcher might prevent the launch of another missile in the same bay. There remains a popular opinion that the reasons given were bogus, and that a preference for manoeuvrability over stealth was the real reason for the choice. However, there is no obvious reason why the USAF should want to lie about its reasons, and it seems likely that the external appearance of the two aircraft wasn't as good a guide to their capabilities as many people thought. [From Mike Spick & Barry Wheeler, _Modern American Fighters and Attack Aircraft_, and magazine reports]
Subject: C.7. Did someone buy Grumman? Yes. Northrop took it over in May 1994, and is now known as Northrop Grumman.
Subject: C.8. Why do recent articles refer to the "Lockheed F-16"? General Dynamics sold its military aircraft division to Lockheed in December 1992. Although readers of this newsgroup probably associate GD with aircraft like the F-16 and F-111, the company has always been primarily a shipbuilder, and has now decided to concentrate exclusively on this area. Lockheed, in turn, is about to merge with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin.
Subject: C.9. Whatever happened to the F/A-16? At one time the USAF had a plan to replace its A-10s with F-16s fitted with a version of the Avenger cannon. This was tested during Desert Storm, when F-16As of the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing were fitted with GPU-5 pods on their centreline pylons, and given the new designation F/A-16A. The GPU-5 contains the GAU-13 cannon (a four-barrelled version of the seven-barrelled GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon fitted to the A-10) and 353 rounds of ammunition. If the tests were successful, there were plans for a fleet of F/A-16Cs with the same armament. The tests were a disaster. Precision aiming was impossible for several reasons: the pylon mount isn't as steady as the A-10's rigid mounting; the F-16 flies much faster than an A-10, giving the pilots too little time approaching the target; the tremendous recoil from the gun shook the plane around badly; and some essential CCIP (continuously computed impact point) software was unavailable. They ended up using it as an area weapon, spraying multiple targets with ammunition, producing an effect rather like a cluster bomb. It took only a couple of days of this before they gave up, unbolted the gun pods, and went back to dropping real cluster bombs. The F/A-16C plan was quietly forgotten. The USAF still has plans to replace the A-10 with F-16s, but they no longer involve 30mm gun pods (or, apparently, a designation with an "A" in it). [Thanks to Kevin Au for posting most of this information]
Subject: C.10. Why do some aircraft have gold-tinted canopies? Gold-tinted canopies have been noticed on the EA-6B and the F-16C/D. On the EA-6B, the coating is a shield against electromagnetic radiation from the Prowler's powerful jamming pods. On the F-16C/D, officially the purpose of this treatment is classified, but discussion on the newsgroup has brought general agreement (based on unclassified sources and hints dropped by pilots) that the gold coating reduces the aircraft's radar signature, by reducing reflections off the complex interior shape of the cockpit. In both cases the coating is a very thin layer of actual gold metal, not a gold-tinted paint. Other aircraft, such as the F-15E and F/A-18C/D, have a distinct greenish tinge to their canopies. This is a different coating (on the inside of the canopy rather than the outside) that reduces internal reflections to help visibility. Several newsgroup readers report having similar coatings on their glasses, so it's not exactly a secret.
Subject: C.11. Why do USAF aircraft have tailhooks? To help stop the aircraft in the event of brake failure, or some similar accident leading to a runway overrun. Just past the end of many military runways, you'll find an arrester cable strung across the field. The cable (unlike those on aircraft carriers) isn't attached to anything firm; instead, each end is linked to a long chain, which just drags on the ground. The idea is to slow the aircraft down in a reasonable distance; the tailhooks on Air Force fighters are smaller and weaker than the superficially similar hooks on Navy planes. The inevitable next question, "Does this mean Air Force planes could land on a carrier in an emergency?", has been discussed at length in this newsgroup. It has been conclusively established that, no, an Air Force fighter could never land on a carrier because, first, its landing gear is likely to break in the much heavier touchdown required for carrier landings (sink-rate figures quoted in the newsgroup give an F-15's main gear roughly a fifty-fifty chance of taking a carrier landing without breaking); second, even if it could get on the deck in one piece, the weaker AF tailhook would break when it caught the Navy arrester cable; and third, even if the aircraft was physically capable of it, Air Force pilots aren't trained in the highly specialised and difficult art of carrier landings. It has been pointed out that, if the USAF thought there was even the slightest chance of ever being able to save one of its planes by landing it on a carrier, it would have been tested on the mock carrier deck at Patuxent River; the fact that this has never been tried is pretty solid evidence that the Air Force engineers (who would presumably know) are certain it can't be done. The F-16Ns used by the US Navy as adversaries in training have the standard Air Force tailhooks and undercarriage, and are definitely not carrier capable. The RAF pilots who learned to operate from carriers in a few weeks on the way to the Falklands are a different matter entirely; they were flying Harriers, and of course most of the above is irrelevant to VTOL aircraft. Some training was still required, of course, but the requirements are very different, both for the aircraft and the pilots. (As one Harrier pilot put it: "It's much easier to stop and then land, than to land and then try to stop.") A few land-based aircraft have been flown from carriers with minimal modification, notably the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and U-2. Both of these were fairly special cases involving aircraft designed for very low speeds (and, in the case of the Hercules, rough landings) from the start. On 30 October 1963, a USMC KC-130F made several carrier landings and take-offs on the flight deck of USS _Forrestal_, in a series of tests intended to determine whether it would make a good COD (carrier on-board delivery) aircraft. The only modification was an anti-skid braking system. The aircraft made several landings and take-offs, with no use of arrester gear or catapults, and performed well (the pilot, Lieutenant James H Flatley III, was awarded the DFC for his part in the tests). However, it turned out that the Hercules would have been unable to fit in a carrier's hangar deck, so the smaller Grumman C-2 Greyhound was developed instead. Modifications to the U-2 involved the addition of an arrester hook and a strengthened landing gear (the U-2 already had folding wings). In 1964 two modified U-2As, designated U-2G, were flown from USS _Ranger_; the tests were successful, and several modified aircraft were apparently flown from carriers by the CIA during the 1960s (the service version may have been designated U-2J). In 1969, a similarly modified U-2R was flown from USS _America_, but this does not seem to have led to any service use. Land-based aircraft have been successfully modified to be carrier-based; the modifications involved, when the aircraft is a fast jet, are extensive. It isn't just a matter of adding a tailhook and new landing gear; most of the airframe needs to be redesigned. The best known example in the West is the BAe/MD T-45 Goshawk, the US Navy's new trainer, based on BAe's Hawk. The Russians have had some success in adapting several fighters and attack aircraft for carrier service. Carrier tests were made by modified MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, and by trainer versions of the Su-25; the naval MiG-29K was cancelled, but the Su-33 (based on the Su-27K) and Su-25UTG have entered service. A report of an early MiG-29K being torn in half on its first attempt at a tailhook arrest gives a hint of the difficulties involved.
Subject: C.12. What's the composition of an aircraft carrier's air wing? Most of the questions along this line refer to the US Navy's carriers, so I'll discuss them first, then cover other countries. * United States: The US Navy currently operates thirteen aircraft carriers, although at any given time at least two are undergoing refit. The oldest carriers in service are the two surviving members of the 79250 tonne Forrestal class (CV-60 Saratoga and CV-62 _Independence_). CV-41 _Midway_ (the last of its class) was retired in 1992, AVT-59 _Forrestal_ and CV-61 _Ranger_ (also Forrestal class) in 1993 (_Ranger_ is mothballed for the Ready Reserve Fleet). USS _Saratoga_ is due to be decommissioned in September 1994, leaving the US Navy with twelve carriers until USS _John C Stennis_ becomes operational in 1996. These are followed by three 81775 tonne Kitty Hawk carriers (CV-63 _Kitty Hawk_, CV-64 _Constellation_, and CV-66 _America_), and the USS _John F Kennedy_ (CV-67), the sole vessel of its class, and the US Navy's last conventionally powered carrier. _Kennedy_ will be used as a training carrier after 1995. The first nuclear powered carrier was the 93970 tonne USS _Enterprise_ (CVN-65), launched in 1961; this was followed in 1975 by the first of the 93300 tonne Nimitz class, which consists so far of CVN-68 _Nimitz_, CVN-69 _Dwight D Eisenhower_, CVN-70 _Carl Vinson_, CVN-71 _Theodore Roosevelt_, CVN-72 _Abraham Lincoln_, and CVN-73 _George Washington_, to be followed by CVN-74 _John C Stennis_ (to become operational in 1996, replacing _America_) and CVN-75 _United States_ (in 1998, replacing _Independence_). A ninth Nimitz class vessel (CVN-76, not yet named) has been authorised, and a tenth (CVN-77) will be requested. The ships from CVN-71 on differ slightly from the first three (displacing 96836 tonnes), and are sometimes considered a separate class (Roosevelt class). In principle, the air wings embarked on the carriers are interchangeable; actually, the slightly different capabilities of the various carrier classes mean that this cannot quite be achieved in practice. Three slightly different types of carrier air wing (CVW) are currently in use. The "Conventional CVW", currently (mid 1994) the most common, consists of nine squadrons. There are two VF fighter squadrons (with twelve F-14 Tomcats each), two VFA fighter/attack squadrons (twelve F/A-18 Hornets each), one VA attack squadron (ten A-6E Intruder attack aircraft and four KA-6D tankers), one VAW airborne early warning squadron (four E-2C Hawkeyes), one VAQ electronic warfare squadron (four EA-6B Prowlers), two anti-submarine squadrons (one VS with eight or ten S-3B Vikings, and one HS with six SH-3H Sea King or SH-60F Ocean Hawk helicopters), and two C-2A Greyhound COD (carrier on-board delivery) transport aircraft. Total complement is 86 or 88 aircraft. The USN is progressively switching to the "Transitional CVW", which consists of ten squadrons. It is essentially the same as the "Roosevelt CVW" described below, except that the two VA and one VS squadron each consist of only eight aircraft, and most HS squadrons have the older composition of six SH-3Hs. Total complement is 82 aircraft, or 84 if the newer HS squadron is present. The "Roosevelt CVW", taking its name from the carrier on which it was first deployed, is expected to become standard by the turn of the century. It consists of ten squadrons. There are two VF fighter squadrons (ten F-14 Tomcats each), two VFA fighter/attack squadrons (ten F/A-18 Hornets each), two VA attack squadrons (ten A-6E Intruders each), one VAW airborne early warning squadron (five E-2C Hawkeyes), one VAQ electronic warfare squadron (five EA-6B Prowlers), two anti-submarine squadrons (one VS with ten S-3B Vikings, and one HS with six SH-60F Ocean Hawk and two HH-60H Rescue Hawk helicopters), and two C-2A Greyhound transports. Total complement is 90 aircraft. A variant of this, tested in one air wing, replaces one of the F-14 squadrons with a third F/A-18 squadron. Strictly speaking, the C-2s belong to separate units and are assigned to carriers individually; they are not officially part of the carrier's air wing. The A-6 will be retired before the end of the 1990s. The attack role will be taken over by additional F/A-18s, including the considerably enhanced F/A-18E/F series. The F-14 will also gain an air-to-ground role, and probably a change of designation to F/A-14. The new standard CVW, circa 2000, will probably have four squadrons of F/A-18s. In addition to its giant carriers, the US Navy also operates a number of smaller helicopter and VTOL carriers; the aircraft aboard these are operated by the US Marine Corps. The oldest belong to the 18300 tonne Iwo Jima class, built between 1961 and 1970 (six ships; LPH-3 _Okinawa_, LPH-7 _Guadalcanal_, LPH-9 _Guam_, LPH-10 _Tripoli_, LPH-11 _New Orleans_, and LPH-12 _Inchon_; LPH-2 _Iwo Jima_ was retired in 1993). Normal complement is four AH-1T/W Cobras, 20 CH-46D/E Sea Knights, four CH-53D Sea Stallions, and four UH-1N Iroquois; they have occasionally carried Harriers, mainly on tests. The five ships of the 39300 tonne Tarawa class were built from 1976 to 1980 (LHA-1 _Tarawa_, LHA-2 _Saipan_, LHA-3 _Belleau Wood_, LHA-4 _Nassau_, and LHA-5 _Peleliu_). Complement is four AH-1T/W Cobras, 12 to 16 CH-46D/E Sea Knights, six CH-53D Sea Stallions or CH-53E Super Stallions, and four UH-1N Iroquois. Like the Iwo Jimas, they have sometimes carried Harriers. The five ships of the 40530 tonne Wasp class (LHD-1 _Wasp_, LHD-2 _Essex_, LHD-3 _Kearsage_, LHD-4 _Boxer_, and LHD-5 _Bataan_) entered service beginning in 1989. These are intended to be dual-role ships, carrying different complements of aircraft for the assault role or the "sea control" role. The assault complement, which will probably be the more common, consists of 30 helicopters (an unspecified mix of AH-1W Cobras, CH-46E Sea Knights, CH-53D Sea Stallions, CH-53E Super Stallions, SH-60B Seahawks, and UH-1N Iroquois) and six AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft. In the sea control role, the ships become true aircraft carriers, with 20 AV-8B Harriers and four to six SH-60B Seahawk helicopters. * Argentina: The Argentine Navy's single carrier, the 20000 tonne _Veinticinco de Mayo_ (25th of May) was originally a British carrier of World War II vintage, being laid down in 1942 as HMS _Venerable_; it also saw service with the Netherlands (as _Karel Doorman_) before being bought by Argentina in 1968. The ship played no part in the Falklands War of 1982, being withdrawn to port after the sinking of the _General Belgrano_. In 1986 it was laid up for a complete refit; the ship has yet to return to sea. Although Argentina operates the Super Etendard strike aircraft, designed for carrier service, early tests indicated that it would be unsuitable for use with the _Veinticinco de Mayo_ (presumably because the aircraft were designed for the larger French carriers), and Argentina's Super Etendards have always been operated from land bases. The carrier's combat wing originally consisted of A-4Q Skyhawks, which have since been retired; however, Argentina has recently bought 54 A-4Ms from the US, and it seems likely that some of these will be aboard when the carrier sails again. The Argentine Navy also has six S-2E Trackers, re-engined with turboprops. The future air wing of the _Veinticinco de Mayo_ will probably consist of about six A-4Ms for light attack, five S-2ETs for outer-zone anti-submarine warfare, three or four SH-3D/Hs for inner-zone ASW, and two Alouette IIIs for plane guard and search and rescue. * Brazil: Brazil's single carrier, _Minas Gerais_ (also originally British, starting life as HMS _Vengeance_, a sister ship to Argentina's carrier), was laid up in 1987. The original plan involved a catapult refit, but the ship was recommissioned in October 1993 with this left undone, although she does have new boilers and electronics. The former air wing comprised six to eight S-2E Trackers (now re-engined with turboprops) and four to six SH-3E Sea Kings in the anti-submarine role, plus two Bell 206B Jetrangers and two or three HB.350 Esquilos (licence-built Ecureuils) for utility duties; it seems to be more or less unchanged. Plans to build a larger, 40000 tonne carrier, with an air wing including a navalised AMX, appear to have been abandoned. * France: The French Navy currently operates two 33223 tonne carriers, _Clemenceau_ and _Foch_, commissioned in the early 1960s. They carry 16 to 20 Super Etendards in the strike role, about 7 F-8E(FN) Crusader fighters, four Etendard IVP reconnaissance aircraft, six Alize ASW aircraft, and a handful of AS.365F Dauphin helicopters for plane guard and SAR duties; these are often augmented by a few Lynx ASW helicopters. The Etendard IVPs are expected to be retired in 1995; the F-8s, originally expected to be retired fairly soon and temporarily replaced by F/A-18s pending the arrival of the Rafale M, will now soldier on until the Rafale enters naval service in 1999. The Alizes are nominally scheduled to be retired in 1998, but in fact are likely to survive into the next century. Two Grumman E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft have been ordered, with an option for two more. France's two current carriers are intended to be replaced by two 35000 tonne nuclear powered carriers, _Charles de Gaulle_ and _Richelieu_; the first was launched in April 1994, while the second, originally planned for 2004, is likely to slip to 2009 (or possibly be cancelled altogether). The air wings will be similar to those of the existing carriers, probably consisting of 16 to 20 Super Etendards, about 10 Rafale M fighters, two E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft, possibly a few Alizes, and the same complement of helicopters. * India: The Indian Navy's first carrier was the 19512 tonne INS _Vikrant_ (originally laid down in 1945 as HMS _Hercules_, but sold to India before its completion in 1961). It originally carried Sea Hawk fighters and Alize ASW aircraft; the Sea Hawks were retired in 1979 and the Alizes were relegated to shore duties in 1990. The present complement of the _Vikrant_ consists of about six Sea Harrier Mk 51 fighters, six Sea King Mk 42B ASW/ASV helicopters, and three Sea King Mk 42C utility transport helicopters. In 1987 the Indian Navy acquired a second carrier, the 29000 tonne INS _Viraat_ (formerly HMS _Hermes_), which currently carries an air wing of the same composition. The _Viraat_ is somewhat larger than the _Vikrant_, however, and its Sea Harrier complement is expected to be enlarged. India has plans to build two or three new carriers in the near future, probably carrying new combat aircraft (candidates include the Russian MiG-29K, Su-33, and Yak-41). * Italy: The Italian Navy operates a single carrier, the 13452 tonne _Giuseppe Garibaldi_, launched in 1983 and commissioned in 1987. Its air arm is still in training, but is planned to consist of 16 AV-8B-Plus Harriers in the fighter/attack role and 18 SH-3D Sea King ASW helicopters (possibly including some AEW variants). The Sea Kings will eventually be replaced by EH.101s. The Italian Navy intends to acquire a second carrier in the same class, and possibly a third. * Russia (and the former USSR) (see also section C.13): The USSR's first serious attempt at seagoing aviation were the two 19200 tonne helicopter carriers of the Moskva class, _Moskva_ and _Leningrad_, the first being launched in 1967; these carried 15 to 18 Ka-25 helicopters of various subtypes. _Leningrad_ was retired in 1991, _Moskva_ in 1992. They were followed in 1976 by the first of the 43000 tonne Kiev class, which eventually numbered four ships (_Kiev_, _Minsk_, _Novorossiysk_, and _Baku_; the last was later renamed _Admiral Gorshkov_), and carried the USSR's first V/STOL aircraft, the Yak-38. The air wing originally consisted of twelve Yak-38F/M strike fighters, one Yak-38U trainer, and 15 to 20 helicopters of the Ka-25 and Ka-27/28/29 families. The first three of these carriers were retired in the early 1990s, along with the entire fleet of Yak-38s; the one surviving ship, _Admiral Gorshkov_, now carries only helicopters. The four ships were actually divided into three subclasses, _Novorossiysk_ and _Baku_/_Gorshkov_ differing from the first two ships, and from each other. _Novorossiysk_ was designed for a larger air wing, although by the time it entered service, the Yak-38 was falling out of favour, and it probably carried extra helicopters rather than fixed-wing aircraft. _Gorshkov_ carried a still larger air wing, and was designed with the (now cancelled) Yak-41 in mind; the actual capacity of the ship's hangars has never been released, but it probably carries about 35 to 40 aircraft or helicopters. The USSR's first conventional carrier, the 67500 tonne _Tbilisi_ (later renamed _Admiral Kuznetsov_), was launched in 1985. It was originally used for sea trials of a variety of naval aircraft prototypes; the aircraft types involved have now been narrowed down, and the _Kuznetsov_ is now involved in training of naval pilots and crew. When it enters full service, it is expected to carry an air wing of about 50 to 60 aircraft, comprised of about 20 Su-33 multirole fighters, perhaps another 10 to 20 strike aircraft of unknown type (probably another Su-27 derivative), a few Su-25UTG trainers, and the usual assortment of Ka-27/28/29/32 helicopters. The Yak-44 AEW aircraft has been cancelled (but a revival is being considered); a Ka-32 helicopter has been seen with what appears to be an AEW system. _Varyag_ (formerly _Riga_), sister ship to _Kuznetsov_, was left incomplete at the Nikolayev shipyard; Russia, after dithering for several years, finally decided not to buy the ship, and (after failing to sell it to anyone else) the Ukrainian government has ordered it to be scrapped. The third large carrier, the 75000 tonne, nuclear powered _Ulyanovsk_, was never completed and has already been scrapped. * Spain: Spain's only current aircraft carrier, the 16700 tonne _Principe de Asturias_, was commissioned in 1989 to replace the aging 13000 tonne _Dedalo_. The design was based on the Sea Control Ship concept, developed in 1974 for the US Navy but then abandoned. It carries six to eight AV-8B Harrier strike aircraft (expected to be upgraded to AV-8B-Plus standard, with air-to-air radar), six to eight SH-3H Sea King helicopters (mainly in the ASW role, but also including one or two AEW versions), and four to eight AB.212ASW helicopters. * United Kingdom: The Royal Navy's three 20600 tonne Invincible class carriers (_Invincible_, _Illustrious_, and _Ark Royal_) were originally designated "through-deck cruisers", to get around political attempts to prevent the RN from operating carriers. At any time, two of the carriers are in service while the third undergoes refit. The two active air wings normally each consist of nine Sea Harrier FRS.1 strike fighters (to be replaced by the more advanced FA.2 version), nine Sea King HAS.6 ASW helicopters, and three Sea King AEW.2A AEW helicopters. The composition of the Sea King complement varies to meet the requirements of particular missions, often including the HC.4 assault transport version. A new helicopter carrier, HMS _Ocean_, was ordered in 1994. [Most of this information comes from Lindsay Peacock's article in the June 1993 issue of _Air International_, and from _Modern Warships_ by Tony Gibbons and David Miller, and _Modern US Navy_ by John Jordan; thanks to Simon Shpilfoygel for additional information on the Russian carriers, and to Robin Lee for recent updates]
Subject: C.13. What's happened to the former USSR's aircraft carriers? Both of the Moskva class helicopter carriers have been retired (_Leningrad_ in 1991, _Moskva_ in 1992). Of the four 43000 tonne Kiev class carriers, three (_Kiev_, _Minsk_, and _Novorossiysk_) have been retired, leaving only one (_Admiral Gorshkov_) in service with the Northern Fleet. The Yak-38 V/STOL strike aircraft formerly assigned to the ships have also been retired; the _Gorshkov_ now carries only helicopters. _Minsk_ and _Novorossiysk_ have been stricken for scrapping; _Kiev_ is mothballed, but will be cannibalised for parts to keep _Gorshkov_ in service. However, _Gorshkov_ itself is currently described as "inactive"; given the Russian government's chronic shortage of money, and the fact that there are no shipyards in Russia capable of servicing them (the only suitable one is in the Ukraine), it's quite possible that the entire class may disappear in the near future. The 67500 tonne _Admiral Kuznetsov_, the only conventional aircraft carrier ever operated by the Soviet Navy, remains in service with the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet. Its sister ship, _Varyag_, remains at the Nikolayev shipyard, not quite complete. Its fate was decided in June 1994, when the Ukrainian government ordered it to be scrapped, after Russia's decision not to buy the vessel, and no success in attempts to sell it to other countries such as China and India. The 75000 tonne, nuclear powered _Ulyanovsk_ was never completed; the hull has been scrapped. The _Kuznetsov_, although nominally in active service, has so far been used primarily for testing aircraft and operating procedures, the Russian Navy having very little experience with fixed-wing carrier operations. Its primary aircraft type is the Sukhoi Su-33 single-seat multirole fighter (production version of the Su-27K prototypes), which is currently in low-rate production. The Mikoyan MiG-29K was tested aboard _Kuznetsov_ alongside the Su-27K, but has not been selected for production. A naval training version of the Sukhoi Su-25, the Su-25UTG, is also in production (a handful of another version, the Su-25UBP, were also built). The _Kuznetsov_ also carries a number of Kamov Ka-27/28/29/32 helicopters, in various subtypes. Two AEW aircraft were developed but cancelled. The first was an AEW version of the Antonov An-72 twin-turbofan STOL transport, codenamed "Madcap" by NATO; this interesting design (the radar disc was mounted atop a forward-swept, V-shaped set of tail fins) was cancelled in favour of Yakovlev's Yak-44, a twin turboprop apparently very similar to the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. The official reason given was that a turboprop was more efficient for the AEW role than a jet (although your FAQ compiler suspects that the fact that Yakovlev is a Russian company while Antonov is Ukrainian probably had something to do with it too). The Yak-44 has also in turn been cancelled (although a revival is being considered), and recent reports suggest that an AEW version of the Kamov Ka-32 helicopter is under development. Assuming the _Kuznetsov_ remains in service, a strike aircraft is likely to be added to its air wing; this will almost certainly be another Su-27 variant, since the Russian air forces currently have a policy of minimising the number of different types in service by using Su-27 derivatives wherever possible. Navalised strike versions of the MiG-27, Su-24, and Su-25 were all tested on imitation flight decks on land bases, but none were ever developed into carrier-capable naval aircraft (the naval Su-25s are all trainers). Both surviving carriers serve with the Northern Fleet, because current Russian Navy policy is to concentrate all carriers, aircraft, and pilots in one fleet. [Much of the above is from recent magazine reports; thanks to Simon Shpilfoygel for additional information] [Oh, and thanks to John Iodice for pointing out to me that "Kuznetsov" is Russian for "Smith" :-) ]
Subject: C.14. What's an Su-35? Formerly known as the Su-27M, the Sukhoi Su-35 is an advanced derivative of the Su-27 "Flanker". The first Su-27M prototype was displayed at the 1992 Farnborough Air Show. The Su-35 is expected to enter service in 1995. Changes from the Su-27 include a new radar, requiring a somewhat larger nose; foreplanes, as on the naval Su-33; more powerful engines (also originally developed for the Su-33); an enlarged and improved infrared search and track unit in front of the cockpit; an infrared missile-warning scanner on the fuselage spine; numerous internal electronic improvements; larger tail fins (required by aerodynamic changes imposed by the enlarged nose); and a large "spine" between the engines containing a rearward-facing air-to-air radar, allowing the use of rear-firing semi-active radar guided missiles. Not present on the prototype, but expected to be on the production version, are two-dimensional thrust-vectoring engine nozzles (as on the F-15SMTD demonstrator and YF-22). The interesting concept of rearward-firing missiles has apparently been tested on Su-27s, using modified R-73 missiles mounted on rotating pylons that can fire missiles in either direction. The production version apparently has a "nose cone" over the rocket engine (jettisoned on launch), and modified fins to prevent instability problems while briefly flying backwards after launch. The launch rails are fitted with gas cartridges to boost the missile backwards, so its own engine doesn't have to overcome the aircraft's full forward speed. It isn't clear whether the missiles will be mounted on fixed rearward facing rails, or rotating pylons similar to those used during development. How well any of this will work in practice remains to be seen. Besides being a better fighter, the Su-35 also has greatly improved ground attack capability compared to the original Su-27, which was more specialised for the air-to-air role. Other Su-27 derivatives include the tandem two-seat Su-30 in interceptor (Su-30, formerly Su-27PU, intended to supplement the more capable but more expensive MiG-31) and fighter-bomber (Su-30M, equivalent to the F-15E, and export Su-30MK) versions; Su-33 (formerly Su-27K) carrier-borne multirole fighter; and Su-34 (formerly Su-27IB/KU) side-by-side two-seat strike aircraft (intended to replace the MiG-27, Su-17, and Su-24 in the interdiction/strike role, probably entering service in 1996). The Su-30MK has been offered for export to India and China. The Su-34 shares the Su-35's tail radar and rear-firing AAMs. Vital statistics (Su-35): length 21.96 m, span 14.70 m, empty weight 18400 kg, normal TO weight 25700 kg, max speed 2440 km/h (Mach 2.30), ferry range 3500 km; power plant: two 137.30 kN Lyulka AL-31MF augmented turbofans; armament: one GSh-30 30mm cannon, 14 hardpoints, max external load 8200 kg. [My main source here is Steven Zaloga's _Russian Falcons_; thanks also to Rustam Yusupov for posting additional details] ------------------------------ -- ... Ross Smith (Wellington, New Zealand) <avfaq@meanmach.actrix.gen.nz> ... "Being in the air farce and navy means you only get to kill people by remote control, which takes some of the fun out of it." (Steve Kieffer-Higgins, in alt.tasteless)

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