Marching orders

March 31, 2007

Just a brief update on the status of the German Tornados due to support NATO forces in Afghanistan. Departure is now set for Monday, April 2.

German defense minister Franz Josef Jung, inspector general of the armed forces Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Luftwaffe chief Lt. Gen. Klaus-Peter Stieglitz will give the six aircraft a send off at the Jagel air base where the 51st recce squadron is based.


Heading East (again)

March 30, 2007

imagery.jpgWhen it comes to war, German efficiency certainly isn’t what it once was. NATO may have asked the German government in December to provide alliance forces in Afghanistan with airborne reconnaissance assets, but it’s taken until now to clear the hurdles.

First the coalition government was slow come to agreement, formally asking parliament in early February to approve sending Tornado reconnaissace aircraft. Parliament took until March 9 to give its go ahead, and then the courts got involved. 

But now, Germany’s federal constitutional court has effectively given the green light to the deployment of German air force Tornado reconnaissance aircraft to

The court has struck down an emergency case brought by two of
Germany’s left wing parties to block the deployment, which had been okayed by Parliament on March 9. 

The court ruled that allowing the deployment to proceed wouldn’t harm the main issue the plaintiffs have raised, namely that NATO is being transformed from a defensive to an offensive alliance with its leadership of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and that therefore Germany’s participation is unconstitutional. That issue will be reviewed in an April 18 hearing. 

The German air force has already dispatched a first contingent of about 40  persons to Afghanistan, to prepare the deployment to Masar-e-Sharif. The Luftwaffe wants at least six operational reconnaissance Tornados, and may send eight aircraft to give it adequate spars. All aircraft belong to the 51st reconnaissance squadron.

The German military planners hope the Tornados will be operational mid-month, despite the delay.

The reconnaissance system doesn’t provide the much prized real-time data NATO forces are really interested in. So forces will have to wait several hours before they can review what snaps the Tornados have actually taken.

Transport operations using Ilyushin Il-76s are already underway to get the support equipment in place for the deployment. Two of the freighters are flying daily for the squadron’s base at Jagel, in northern Germany, to



March 28, 2007

mop.jpgThe Pentagon has taken another step in long-standing efforts to be able to attack deeply buried bunkers without having to resort to nukes.

Boeing says it has completed a static tunnel lethality test of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. Some of you may remember we earlier blogged on MOP, the 30,000 lb. bomb U.S. Air Force would drop from B-2 or B-52 bombers.

MOP contains about 5,300 lb. of explosive material. The 20-ft.-long weapon should be able to reach targets as deep as 60 meters below ground, and penetrate 5,000 psi of reinforced concrete. If the concrete is stronger, around 10,000 psi, it should still deliver a penetrtion depth of 8 meters.

MOP testing was actually supposed to take place last year, but by Pentagon standards the roughly half-year delay is nothing out of the ordinary.


The March 14 test under the Defense Threat Reduction Agency-sponsored program – that’s the organization focused on eliminating weapons of mass destruction facilities – took place at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M.


The Air Force now plans to give Boeing a sole-source contract to integrate MOP on the B-2, and develop production plans. Why sole-source? The Air Force says it wants the contractor to have 2 years experience with the program, and that eliminates all the competition.


Congress provided extra money for MOP, in part as a counter to the administration’s desire to develop the robust nuclear earth penetrator.


Listen To This

March 10, 2007

reaper.jpgThe U.S. Air Force is planning yet another upgrade to Predatorunmanned aircraft, to make the missile-shooting, reconnaissance system a true, multi-intelligence collector.

The latest initiative would see the medium-altitude fitted with the ability to monitor radars. At the heart of the upgrade is the so called Airborne Signal Intelligence Payload, that is being designed as an integrated device to monitor radar and communications systems.  

ASIPs is not a new program. The Air Force started work on the sigint system in 1999, with the high-flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft named as the platform to carry the device. Critical design review for that version took place in 2005. The receivers are being mounted in the two distinctive underwing pods the U-2 can be seen carrying.

Later, the Air Force decided to also install the Northrop Grumman-developed ASIP on the Global Hawk high-altitude endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, made by the same company. Global Hawk is the nominal replacement for the U-2, so adding ASIP to the drone was logical.  The signals intelligence capability will build on a more rudimentary radar monitoring system already flown on the UAV.  

Barring delays, ASIP should be part of the so called Block 30 upgrade to Global Hawk, and be fielded in 2008. First flight is supposed to take place this year with both the high-band (radar intercept) and low-band (communications) subsystems. The radar portion has already been flown on Global Hawk.  But now, the service is contemplating shifting ASIP also to the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and its related MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Initial work will focus on sorting out what the hurdles might be to add the sigint subsystem to the Predator family.  Issues could include power supply and antenna separation. Also unclear is whether a Predator could carry both high-band and low-band elements at the same time — on the  U-2, it takes at least seven electronic boxes, not counting the receivers. No timeline, exists, yet, for fielding of the capability.