Out of Time Over Syria: High Closure Rates in Shrinking Airspace

08 Dec 2017: It appears we have had yet another (another) confrontation with Russian aircraft over Syrian airspace. We are getting tired of being right frankly, and we have demanded the US remove its forces from Syria - as we are way (way) past any need for them. To continue on this trajectory shows both friends and allies alike that Washington remains a reckless global entity operating a dubious legal narrative. ISIS is all but already defeated. While we are no friends of Assad, Syria and its allies can finish the job.

American and Russian aircraft are coming in increasing close proximity over Syria. Cooler heads at the Pentagon need to step in and start withdrawing and winding down American combat operations in Syria before miscalculation causes an international incident, or worse. The high closure rates and the "fog of war" are working together and could produce disastrous results if nothing is done.
The operational and design limitations of radio spectrum airfoil fighters like the American F-22A are becoming increasingly apparent (as we predicted back in 2009). In sacrificing everything for x-band stealth, the USAF has confounded what fighter-pilots require with what stealth requires. F-22 has an uneven capability and lacks proper sensors for the pilot to do the tasks assigned over Syria. The F-22 is ill-suited to conduct defensive counterair.

We have been highly critical of stealth fighters and believe all ultra-stealthy fighters are one to two generations behind in wide-band sensors, IFF capabilities, helmet-sighting, weapons, and 2D post-stall maneuvering. Together with exotic stealth coating that sandblast-off while in flight, the costs, limitations, and low mission-capable rates - simply do not pencil out for stealth fighters.

- Boresight

Article below originally appears by Lara Seligman at Aviation Week and Space Technology. Please see Source. Photos selected here were not in the original article, dated Nov 19, 2017:

"Russian Fighters Test U.S. Boundaries In Skies Over Syria"

"Al DHAFRA AIR BASE, UAE—As Islamic State militants lose ground in Iraq and Syria, U.S. fighter pilots are seeing increasingly alarming behavior from Russian aircraft flying over the battlespace.

Lt. Col. “Ox,” a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor pilot and commander of the 95th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron assigned to Al Dhafra airbase, UAE, said his pilots see unexpected, potentially threatening movement from Russian fighters flying over Iraq and Syria with growing regularity. The pilots have had numerous close calls in the past few weeks, with Russian aircraft frequently flying within weapons range of coalition ground troops, Ox said.
The Russians fighters—primarily Sukhoi Su-30s, Su-35s, Su-27 Flankers, and Su-17 Fitters—have not made moves to attack U.S. or coalition forces, but their proximity to the ground troops is threatening, said Ox, who requested partial anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. Russian fighters regularly fly within range of coalition ground forces for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, he added.
For Ox and his pilots, it’s often tough to tell whether the Russian aircraft are deliberately testing their boundaries, or if such events are just honest mistakes. But as ground forces squeeze ISIS into a smaller and smaller area, these “uncomfortable” incidents are becoming more frequent, he said.
"We have to use our judgment to figure out, is this somebody getting close to attack our guys? Or is this somebody that is just flying a wide pattern?” Ox said. “You don’t know if they are doing this to test us, to see what our response is, or if it’s completely innocent. That’s the call that we have to make every day.”
Responding to these incidents is made even more challenging by the increasingly congested airspace, Ox said. The Raptor pilots must very quickly deconflict coalition forces in the area to make sure they have enough space to monitor the Russians and run interference if need be.  
Potentially threatening aircraft are often close enough to see visually, but the busy airspace makes identifying their type and allegiance a challenge, Ox said. This is particularly difficult at night because the Raptors do not have the advanced electro-optical/infrared capability integrated into the F-35 or fourth-generation fighters via external pod.

“It’s so crowded, the typical employment game plans, tactics that we use are happening at much longer ranges than the current fight,” Ox said. “It really accelerates our timelines and puts us into very short decision times, especially as those platforms we are trying to identify get closer and closer to our defending point.”
 Once the Raptors have verified that the aircraft are non-coalition, the pilots must relay what they are seeing to tactical control, such as the airborne E-3 Sentry and the ground-based Combined Air Operations Center, coalition aircraft and ground troops. It is their responsibility to move the other aircraft in the area out of harm’s way in case a confrontation occurs, Ox said.  
In this defensive counterair (DCA) role, the main advantage the Raptor brings is its advanced sensor suite and fusion capability. But where the F-15 Strike Eagles performing DCA in the region are able to send and receive critical battlefield information over Link 16, the tactical data link used by most Air Force aircraft, the F-22s do not have full Link 16 capability. This means the Raptors can receive data and imagery from other aircraft in the battlespace over Link 16, but cannot send the advanced picture the fifth-generation aircraft generates to the rest of the force.
Instead, the F-22 pilots must rely on traditional voice communication to describe what they are seeing, Ox said.
Once the air pace around the threatening aircraft is deconflicted, it becomes a waiting game. The Raptors are closely monitoring the Russian fighters for any sign of aggressive behavior, and are ready to act at the slightest hint of a confrontation.
The U.S. pilots sometimes ping the Russian aircraft over the emergency Guard frequency, but usually do not get a response.

“I couldn’t tell if they are monitoring Guard like we are, I couldn’t tell you if maybe they are hearing it and not responding,” Ox said.
One factor that limits the Raptors’ ability to effectively monitor the Russian fighters is lack of a helmet-mounted cueing system, which equips many other fighters such as the F-35. Such a capability would make DCA operations more effective, particularly in congested airspace, Ox noted. In current operations, Raptor pilots lose time looking back and forth between the visual airspace and the information on the displays.
“It’s just that extra step, and now I’m having to look back outside and find this guy, and a lot of times I’m just looking where I last saw him instead of looking with the helmet and actually having some symbology that shows me exactly where he is,” Ox said. “It would be great to be able to keep our eye on the guy that you are watching and having all that information that is already known to the jet be presented to you.”
Since Ox’s squadron arrived at Al Dhafra at the end of September, they have not had to run interference, which would likely involve buzzing non-coalition aircraft. But a few recent instances have been “right on the edge,” Ox said.
“We don’t typically do those headbutt-type operations very often… but we’ve been close as of late,” Ox said."

- All media found here is for scholarly and research purposes and protected under U.S. Internet ‘Fair Use’ Law -


  1. The Su-35S's OLS-35 does not form FLIR image, without a pod in practice has the same limitation of the F-22 in night flight. F-22 does not have IRST / FLIR because of cost, but the space for its installation is still there. Ironically, the F-35 has both FLIR and HMS, the lack of both in the F-22 is only a matter of project age, unrelated to limitations imposed by stealth.

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    2. hi Ricardo, Thanks for writing. True the Su-35 has no FLIR image, but can still detect stealth aircraft via a "false-positive." IRST picks something up, and then point your x-band radar at it. If you get a small or strange radar return, you know it's stealth, (and not yours) and so an F-22. Even if stealth is 100% effective, this can be used as an IFF technique. The YF-22 did have two thermal detectors in the wing-roots (as well as a center-spine speed brake like F-15) that were (all) deleted on the production F-22 because of x-band reflectivity concerns. The F-22 has no helmet-sighting and there is also concern that the pilot's helmet is not "stealthy" enough - as opponent radar waves penetrate the Raptor canopy. The F-35 is not really a concerted stealth effort either by Lockheed or the USAF. The F-35 has no plans to install an AIM-9X internally - so the F-35 has just "some" stealth for "some" missions. The F-15E is probably a more useful aircraft than Raptor. Personally, i think talking on the radio is a good thing, but it can be monitored and lots of SIGNIT likely vacuumed up by an opponent. - Boresight

  2. A false positive does not serve as visual identification, not in Syria's rules of engagement, just remember the Su-30SM case that had to visually identify an F-22 approaching its formation. Helmet does not need to be furtive, for this there is the canopy that has transparent RAM and is metallized to prevent the entrance of waves in the cabin. An F-35 with AIM-9X externally is more than adequate for a scenario like that of Syria. Remember that the USAF recently stated that the F-35 would be even sneakier than the F-22, probably on the X-band.

    1. This kind of false-positive IFF deduction is used all the time. It was used in 1991 by F-15Cs asking their own "is anyone in afterburner?" to deduce they were seeing an Iraqi Mig-25 rather than another Eagle. How do we know what the Russian rules of engagement are? How do we know they must visually ID areal contacts? The Russian have deployed the Beriev A-50 AWACS so they might have IFF mechanics as the Americans. Longer waves can still enter the F-22 cabin, but even if they don't, its of no matter - no helmet sighting is the real issue for the F-22 (less so at night). The F-35 with a wing mounted AIM-9 is not especially "sneaky" so just use an F-16. F-18, or an F-15E and an AWACS? In my view the Americans are just trying to market stealth fighters to try and get "others" to exhaust resources on developing them (they scooped up and fooled the Chinese, but the Russians not so much). Time will tell if the F-35 will work as well as the Air Forces claims. Thanks for writing. ;) - Boresight

    2. Nice reading.You have great arguments.You should read this:«F-22s and other stealth planes have a little radar cross section – RCS – but they do have an IR signature. This means that they can be vulnerable to small, fast non-stealthy planes that leverage low observable coatings, no radio comms, no radar (hence with a limited RCS and with almost zero electromagnetic emissions) and use their IRST sensors, hi-speed computers and interferometry, to geo-locate enemy radar evading aircraft.
      Leia mais em https://theaviationist.com/2017/11/25/area-51-based-f-16d-performs-rare-pass-through-the-star-wars-canyons-hours-after-f-117-is-spotted-chased-by-two-seater-f-16/#EzTiSrigPkaxf4Mh.99

    3. Hi Nuno, yes their article is from 2017. We have already written extensively about this IRST vs Stealth issue since 2009.
      Please see here:

      The Russians have been using IRST against advanced American technology since the mid/late 1980s. - Boresight

  3. False positive with IFF the F-22 or E-3 can do, just know if there are more aircraft in the coalition next ? All should be with link 16, the issue addressed is the visual identification that is occurring on both sides, we are talking about a low intensity theater, visual identification will not endanger the aircraft. In 2015 an F-22 approached 3km of a formation of Su-30SM without being detected, one of the Su-30SM was in charge of making the visual identification, the false positive was not possible or was not enough. At low frequency all discretion is impaired, in the case of the canopy the transparent RAM will lose performance, but the metallized layer continues to reflect. (Only the Russians are right and everyone including India are wrong?) India does not seem at all pleased with Su-57's level of discretion. Stealth technology has come to stay, Russia does not make relevant use by virtue of the budget. China has no budget problems, logically will seek the american standard of fifth generation.

    1. F-22 never received upgrades the USAF wanted so it can't share link 16 data with the rest of force. There is no independent confirmation about an F-22 being undetected by Su-30 and USAF Raptor pilots appear to now there aircraft are not "invisible." so we're going to hold out on believing this story. Its just a story, with no proof of endless wild American claims (AIM-9X perfect example of US hyperbole). Raptor and all other stealth fighters are only "tuned" for higher-freq x-band. That cannot defeat longer wave VHF and UHF radars because their stealth surfaces are too small (unlike the B2). F-22 helmet is special to stay stealthy so hostile radar wave can get into cockpit and pass though F-22 nose cone as well.

      Correct, India unhappy with Su-57, which just proves the point that stealth fighters are a waste of money. Enormous resources need to spent on them to bring RCS down in just the x-band. Stealth aircraft have very low mission capable rates because of all the maintenance nonsense needed for their "stealth coatings." its silly on a Mach 2 + fighters that need to seek out the enemy. The B2 can just use subsonic avoidance - different mission. Stealth fighters will end up being a design trend like no-gun fighters in the 1960s. The sooner China fields stealth fighters the sooner the Americans will find a way to see them, the stealth fighters debate has already moved to a-post stealth-fighter discussion. DRFM and other technologies can be used to mitigate stealth fighters narrow capability window.
      - Boresight

    2. 100% stealth fighters (like F-22) lacks wide spectrum sensors which is a problem for IFF intensive missions.

    3. Do you belive this would be a good solution for the USAF? https://youtu.be/xGY2JBuSCU0

    4. Hi Nuno, yes we are big fans of more traditional jets. They are cheaper so can be built in more quantities, have no carriage, sensor, or ECM restrictions, and do not need to make compromises in flight perforce, pilots visibility (or need ultra high maintenance requirements) to be stealthy. - Boresight


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