Friday, June 9, 2017

De-confliction Zone?

 USAF F-15E shoots down Shahed-129 drone in Syria.   It had reportedly dropped ordnance in close proximity to CJTF-OIR Special Ops troops near al-Tanf in what has been called a Russian/American de-confliction zone.   Although obviously Russia's allies in Syria do not recognize that zone.  Shahed-129 is Iranian built, but unclear whether this UAV was remotely flown by the IRGC, or the SAAF, or by Hezbollah, or by Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi.  Also unclear whether the Special Ops personnel were American or British - both are reportedly at al-Tanf training and advising anti-Daesh guerrilla forces.

The -E version of the F-15 is reportedly dual-role, both air-to-air and air-to-ground.  But has only been used as a ground attack aircraft except for one other air-to-air incident in Iraq in 1991 when it took out an Iraqi MI-24 helicopter, but that was done with air to ground ordnance, GBU-10.  Unclear so far as to whether the Shahed-129 was taken out by 20mm gun, AIM-9 or AIM-120.  The F-15 design is over 30 years old now.  There have been upgrades, but the average age is 26 years and the average airframe had 6000 hours flying time five years ago, probably closer to 7000 hours now.


  1. Apparently it the ordinance it did drop was defective, and rendered inert.
    Iirc, US Command labelled the event a, "show of force."
    I'm still not sure if that label was carrying a dual meaning.

  2. Thanks Steve -

    I note that Hezbollah is implying the UAV was only doing surveillance.

    And they have done an end around and reportedly reached the Iraqi border. Perhaps with coalition foreknowledge and turning a blind eye.

    That area though seems like all dirt tracks and smuggler trails. A better bet for Assad would be to get the Russians & coalition to negotiate opening the hiway at al-Tanf. Failing that take the Palmyra/Bukamal road.

  3. F-15 has first flight in 1972, was introduced into service in 1976. So it's safe to say that it's older than 50 years, only the -E version is "merely" older than 30 years (first flight 1986, service 1988).

    Flying hours per year and airframe should be above 200 hrs, though the effect of the sequestration on flying hours is unknown to me.

    The U.S. military is flying in the airspace of the sovereign country of Syria with apparent toleration by the Syrian government. Any violence by U.S. forces there without toleration by the Syrian government is a violation of Article I North Atlantic Treaty among other treaties.

  4. From the comment I take it that this UAV has been attributed to Hizbullah (so, in effect, the regime forces), meaning that, seeing as the troops being attacked were anti-Assad-government aligned...well, duh. They're enemies of the drone controllers. If the US and/or UK don't like being attacked by regime assets they shouldn't be training rebel troops.

    I am kinda baffled how this is "news". Kinda like the NYT reporting breathlessly "US troops shelled by Nazis" in 1944...

  5. Sven and FDChief -

    I am not disputing the fact that we should not be there. I personally despise all wars - even those contained in books. But they exist. And they generally do not follow rules or logic.

    And Coalition troops are there, whether they want to be or not. They have been fighting Daeshis in that general area, and just recently their base at al-Tanf was attacked by Daesh VBIEDs. And now on three separate occasions by Iranian-backed militias who claim they are there as proxies for the Israelis. Pretty toxic atmosphere! They might as well be wearing a porkchop overcoat in a shark cage made of bamboo.

    Same same in northern Aleppo province. Turkish backed mercenary artillery observers are reportedly stalking Coalition troops around Manbij. Hoping to get a trophy kill.

    In any case both Assad and Erdogan have some deniability if Coalition folks are gunned down by Hez or Iraqi militias (at al-Tanf) or Turkman FSA militias (at Manbij).

    1. I'll try and find the article, Mike, but my understanding is that one of the biggest problems with the whole U.S. presence in Syria is that practically everyone else could give a shit about Daesh/IS. They're fighting a civil war and the American preoccupation with the gang of looney Sunni takifiris in Raqqa must look somewhere between idiotic and laughable to the rest of the factions playing the Game of Thrones.

      So, to me at least, what's truly irritating about this is picturing myself as some GI slogging away in some Syrian shithole while being strafed by some random guys not because they care about wanting to kill ME but because I'm just a random nuisance that's nearby the people they really WANT to kill.

      Getting killed always posses me off. But getting killed as an afterthought in somebody else's war? That's REALLY irking.

  6. Sven -

    That 6000 flight hours for an average F-15E back in 2012 was for a fleet whose average age at that time was 21 years. So that would have been a lot closer to 300 hours per aircraft at that point of time. Sequestration of course started a year later with the budget dropping 6.4% in 2013 and 5.5% in 2014. But there is no way I know to track that to airframe flight hours without getting deep int some Air force accountant's excel spreadsheet.

    1. FAS mentioned 270 flying hours p.a. per F-15 pilot in 2000
      There are some sources claiming as few as 120 by 2013, though:
      There's also some guy who reached 3,000 flying hours over 20 years, averaging 150 p.a. in that type (likely a couple more on cheaper types).

      I have memories of USAF standards being quite high, such as 240 hrs p.a., but this seems to have dropped a lot, albeit simulator use has no doubt improved.

      USAF pilot training may be a lot worse than the USAF wants the world to believe, though. IIRC NATO requirement was 165 brs p.a. years ago.

    2. Sven -

      Typical squadron usually has many more pilots than airframes. So pilot flight time may not equate directly to airframes. At least in Naval Aviation.

      Commercial Aviation seems to use flight cycles vice flying hours for airframes due to their large pressurized cabins. So there is no equating that directly. But many believe there is still some relationship to metal fatigue in mil a/c.

      In any case regardless of how metal fatigue in aircraft is calculated, predicting it is one of the dark arts. Getting a lot better though with modern computer models.

    3. There's a RAND study about USAF pilots where they predicted that ratio of F-15 pilots to airframes could rise to 1.4 and this would be unacceptable because pilots would take too long to become experienced given the operations budget.
      So I suppose the ratio of F-15 pilots to airframes is now well below 1.4.

      Metal fatigue prediction is quite simple, what's lacking is a record of how much stress the parts were exposed to. Engineers can calculate how often (approx.) a metal part can be bent before it breaks, but knowing this means little if you don't keep track of how often you've bent it already. Flying hours are a very inaccurate metric for this in the military.

      Commercial aircraft have very simple flight profiles. They take off, climb, cruise, descend, fly a couple circles and land. That's nothing like 7-9g dogfights or terrain following flight at Mach 0.8.

      I had a look at predictive models for fibre reinforced plastics. The results of the ongoing huge study that compares many different models shows that basically engineers don't know how to calculate reinforced plastics failure conditions yet. They can only test prototypes.

    4. Sven -

      And yet, there is less risk with fiber composites in aircraft as opposed to aluminum. Primarily due to reduced fatigue and corrosion. Even though engineering has not figured out the right predictive models, empirical results from testing works.

  7. FDChief -

    War on the Rocks has a good article regarding al-Tanf:

    We faced something similar in Iraq. We focused on Zarqawi and ISI, and got fooked over by the IRGC and by various Shia militias while being robbed blind by Maliki.

    1. Yep. I'd argue that this is a feature, not a bug, of U.S. Middle East policy. We don't really have many good people on the ground, or here at State or DoD, who have the experience and broad vision to provide a strategic/geopolitical framework for policy in the region. And even if we did, the two-year electoral cycle means that there's massive incentive for the elected pols to ignore any sort of long-term strategy in favor of short-term eyecatchers that will help them curry favor with the Idiot American Public who couldn't find Qatar with both hands and a fucking flashlight.

      In a sane world the U.S. would have worked to cultivate Iran as the regional power in the Gulf region as well as countries like Egypt and Algeria as regional powers in North Africa, keeping ourselves as a neutral outsider in the area and avoiding sides in local and regional disputes. Instead we've fiddlefucked around gormlessly making enemies where we needed none and have now poisoned the ME well pretty thoroughly. Hard to imagine how even a retreat from the foolishly exposed positions we've taken will help; we're now positioned as the enemy of political Islam in any form and the friend of autocrats and despots throughout the region, the New Imperialists. Stupid, because un-needed; there's no reason for U.S. power to be imposed in a part of the world from which the U.S. needs only passage through transportation chokepoints and petroleum, both of which are negotiable since the suppliers need to sell access to them.

  8. DChief -

    Agree with your 2nd. But not sure how you consider that a feature. Oh, unless your saying it is not an anomaly but is something built into our current affliction?

    1. Yep: "feature" in the sense that it's a built-in part, baked into the U.S. foreign policy pie, and not a random or spontaneous malfunction or glitch. For the regular Joe and Molly U.S. Public it IS a "bug", in that it means that their country is prone to waste blood and treasure on issues - particularly Middle East issues, but including other global hotspots, too - based on inadequate or flat-out incorrect analyses of those issues.

  9. Well, Mike...I'll see your drone and raise you a SAAF Su-22. But let's not forget that Trump was gonna Keep Us Out Of War!

    At least Wilson actually intended to finagle the US into WW1. His Fraudulency just seems bored, or clueless, or both on these Middle Eastern adventures. From Afghanistan, where he's letting Mattis make policy thru force levels to Syria where he's letting tactics drive policy, the Tangerine Toddler is outdoing the Bushies in incompetence while failing to meet their low standards for avoiding picking sides in the Sunni-Shia Schismatic War.

  10. "The Russian Defence Ministry announced that, as of Monday, it has ceased cooperation with the US through its de-confliction channel established with the aim of preventing incidents in the busy skies over Syria. The Defence Ministry stated that it will now “track and target” any airborne vehicle that enters its areas of operations in Syria.

    “In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets,” the ministry’s statement concluded."

    I hope T-Rex is busy making nice with Sergey Lavrov instead of farking around with Trump's new Iran regime change policy.

    And speaking of that, didn't Trump specifically promise during the campaign that there would be "no more regime change".

  11. Off topic: I'm hoping Seydlitz is fine and has not been affected by that fire. Who knew that Portugal had huge tracts of Eucalyptus forest? California imported it from down under a century ago for windbreaks and to fight malaria. But it is extremely flammable and contributes to much of the southern Calif fires.

    1. I didn't recall that Seydlitz wasworking out of Portugal. Yes, I certainly hope he is NOT in the burn zone.

      The Syrian mess just irks me because it drives home the moral the "it's impossible to overestimate the stupidity of the American public". Anyone who was paying attention knew a Trump Administration would be like this. The guy is and has always been a shallow, egotistical blowhard. Almost any of the other GOP flock would have the same awful Gilded Age domestic policies. It takes a fool as colossal as Trump to have a LESS sane foreign policy than fucking Dubya.

      Read something over at "War is Boring" speculating that all this is Trump and the Trumpkins trying to assemble a petrostate alliance w Russia and Saudi. Hmmm.

  12. Does a pair of Iranian drones beat a SAAF Su-22?

    Seems the IRGC was testing the resolve of the coalition after the Russian threat to target coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates. But apparently we do not think highly of Russian SAMs, at least this far away from their S400 site nearer the coast.

  13. To thicken the Syrian plot, I'm reading this morning that the Saudi royals just shook up the organization chart, with the current king's kid - who is characterized as "aggressive", "reckless and sloppy" - replacing his uncle as #2. Supposedly he (the new crown prince) has as big a hard-on for Iran as the Trumpkins.

    Good times...

  14. FDChief -

    I noted that. Seems like Ibn Saud's throne no longer passes down from brother to brother. But I would guess the current king's brothers are too old and enfeebled to be crown prince or have passed away.

    I wonder why bin Nayef was demoted. I see he was partly educated in your own dear city of Portland @ Lewis&Clark. Was he too Americanized, too close to the former Obama administration? Perhaps his role in Yemen was thought to be too ineffective? Or was his counter-terrorism investigations into jihadi funding getting too close to others in the royal family? Or is just a case of primogeniture?

    But in any case I would guess that all in the royal family have a hard-on for their neighbors across the gulf, mostly on religion but also on geopolitical tension.

  15. My opinion was, is, and forever shall be that our current Administration is going to start some shit that we're all going to regret.

    One of things I tweeted at Spice Spice Spicer is that "advisors" and "trainers" do not engage the enemy because...they're "advising" and "training." On the otherhand, mainline Combat Troops engage the pictures show US military artillery personnel pumping rounds down range at enemy positions...they're not "advisors" or "trainers" they're Mainline Combat Troops.

    Calling them anything else is just deception.

    And so yes, we have Combat troops in Syria, engaging Pro-government, engaging Hezebollah, engaging anyone who isn't on our side...makes me wonder if we are just shooting at everyone, hoping that we're not hitting any of our allys.


  16. sheerakhan -

    I believe your opinion is appropiate. Myself and most everyone I know who is watching this and not too busy watching the circus in Washington DC, is concerned that the sh!t could hit the fan soon.

    This weeks Pentagon press briefing from the CJTFOIR spokesman is linked below:

    Lousy comms especially the second half, lots of non-answers to press questions.

    Key take-aways that I got were that:

    - deconfliction hotline may(?) still be open despite rumor that Russians shut it down

    - coalition air still flies west of the Euphrates despite Russian threats to target such aircraft

    - the claim is that the coalition has no problem with Assad forces or their pro-regime militias and Iranians fighting against Daesh, and we may(?) back off on our planned al-Bukamal ops against Daesh and defer it to the Syrians and their allies.