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16,800 flight hours later

First flown in 1959, some 757 P-3 Orions were made by Lockheed and Kawasaki by 1990. The Royal Australian Air Force got into the P-3 biz in 1968, one of the first non-U.S. users, when No 11 Squadron started flying the type. In all, 10 P-3C Update II Orions replaced No 10 Squadron’s aging SP2H Neptunes in 1978 while 11 Squadron’s P-3Bs were in turn phased out by 10 P-3C Update II.5 Orions in 1984–85.

Nov. 1982: Australian, NZ and U.S. aircraft on a ramp during exercise Sandgroper ’82. Visible are seven Dassault Mirage IIIO and one Mirage IIID of No. 77 Squadron RAAF, two P-3C Orions of No. 10 Squadron RAAF, one Lockheed P-3B Orion of No. 5 Squadron RNZAF, and two P-3B (BuNos 152733 and 153418) of Patrol Squadron VP-1 Screaming Eagles, USN. The location is RAAF Base Pearce, north of Perth in Western Australia. DOD Photo DF-ST-83-07228

In 1997, 18 of the legacy P-3C models were upgraded to the country’s unique AP-3C Orion variants, which have continued to operate. In all, the type put in an impressive 50 years in Cold War ASW keeping tabs on Soviet subs, long-range SAR (two wrecked yachtsmen in the Vendee Globe race were located 1,200 miles from shore in 1996 by a P-3), and support missions all over the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

The RAAF is replacing the type with 12 Boeing P-8 Poseidon (8 of which have been delivered) and as many as 8 MQ-4C Triton UAVs.

One survivor, AP-3C Orion #A9-659, is slated to be handed over to the Australian War Memorial in flying condition to preserve.

RAAF 659

Built in 1985, it took its final flight on 28 June 2018, having accumulated 16,800 flight hours. 659 spent three solid decades undertaking operations with the RAAF, including during the Cold War and in East Timor. In 2003 it was one of the first aircraft to deploy to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper.

It also conducted the first Australian P-3C operational combat mission over Iraq during Operation Falconer on 16 March 2003. The craft also took part in the 2014 search for Malaysian Airlines MH370, the largest and longest-range airborne maritime search operation ever conducted.

P-3s are still flown by Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand (who is set to fly them through 2025) as well as 15 other countries. The U.S. Navy continues to fly increasingly limited numbers of P-3C Baseline III Orions until Poseidon is fully fielded.

Farewell, Tonka

On 31 January, the RAF conducted its last operational sortie with the Tornado GR4 (pictured: the last of the two aircraft to take off, bringing an end to four and a half years of the type’s involvement in Operation ‘Shader’). Source: Crown Copyright

The multi-role Panavia Tornado– of which some 992 aircraft were built in three variants (air defense, strike, and EW/recce) for the RAF, Luftwaffe/Marineflieger, Aeronautica Militare, and Royal Saudi Air Force– first flew in 1974 and was a Cold War icon.

A-200 Tornado, 155 Gr, 50 St, ITAF, unauthorized acro during a test flight at Cameri AFB

However, out of production since 1998, these sexy variable-sweep wing aircraft are now aging and, increasingly, being put to pasture.

The Germans have been whittling their fleet down since the Berlin Wall fell (and took the naval birds down almost immediately) while they currently plan to decommission the last strike units flying the bird in 2025. The Italians have 62 of 100 they received and are adding Typhoons and F35s to the force over the next decade to eliminate those.

Five Tornado GR4 aircraft displaying commemorative paint scheme tail-art of the 40th anniversary of the type in RAF service, and the branch’s 100th birthday, last year. The Tornado Squadrons were based at RAF Marham and RAF Lossiemouth.

The RAF, in whose service the bird was nicknamed the “Tonka” for its ability to carry truckloads of bombs during the Gulf War and strikes over Bosnia, has completed their last combat missions for the big strike fighter, as it is on its last days with the Brits.

From MOD:

On the 31st of January 2019, the RAF operated the final operational sortie of the Tornado GR4. The aircraft (ZA601/066 and ZA542/035) took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

After almost 40 years serving the UK on military operations across the world, iconic RAF Tornado jets has returned home for the last time.

First entering service in 1979, the fast jets has been used in operations across the world, most recently bombarding Daesh to push the terrorist group back through Syria and Iraq.

The weapons capabilities of the soon-to-retire Tornados are now being delivered by RAF Typhoon jets, which will continue to take a leading role in the Coalition’s mission against Daesh. Under ‘Project Centurion’, worth £425million over the past three years, the Typhoon can now also launch the world-leading Meteor air-to-air missile, the Stormshadow deep strike cruise missile and the precision attack missile Brimstone.

These improved RAF Typhoon jets will form the backbone of the UK’s combat air fleet, alongside the recently introduced new fleet of F-35 Lighting jets over the coming years.

The last to fly the Tornado is likely to be the Royal Saudi Airforce, who still have 81 IDS variants in service, many of which are over Yemen at any given time. Although F-15S/SA Strike Eagles will likely replace them, don’t count on the Saudi’s to sideline these reliable sluggers until after the whole Yemen thing stops being a thing– which is no time soon.

 

Vale, CPT Mariner

Rosemary Mariner in the 1990s when she was commanding officer of red-star-insignia’d ‘Flashbacks” of VAQ-34, the last Skywarrior and EA-7L electronic aggressor squadron in the Navy.  

Texas-born Rosemary Bryant Mariner (nee Conaster) grew up in San Diego fascinated with aviation, graduating from Purdue in 1972– at age 19– with a degree in Aviation Technology, picking up both flight engineer and pilot ratings before she signed on with the Navy the next year when she became one of the first eight women to enter Naval Aviation training at NAS Pensacola.

She went on to be being assigned to fly the rather pedestrian S-2 Tracker with the “Blue Tails” of VC-2 before she checked out on both the A-4C Skyhawk and A-7E Corsair, going on to become the first woman to fly a front-line tactical aircraft in U.S. service when she joined the fleet in 1975 and later contributed to studies on the ability of female pilots to withstand G-tolerances.

When placed in command of the “Flashbacks” of Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34 (VAQ-34)– an EW squadron flying the classic ERA-3B Whale and the rarely-encountered EA-7L Corsair in 1990– she was the first American female military aviator (in any branch) to lead an operational air squadron, which she did in Desert Shield/Storm. In all, she racked up 24 years of service with over 3,500 hours in 15 different aircraft types.

After she retired she was a scholar in residence and lecturer at UT for over a decade.

She recently passed away at age 65, in the fifth year of her battle with ovarian cancer.

Update: To honor Mariner, the U.S. Navy will conduct the first ever all-female flyover this Saturday, Feb. 2 in Maynardville, TN

All of the aviators participating in the flyover are from squadrons based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana and will be flying F/A-18E/F “Super Hornets.”

The participants are:

Stacy Uttecht, Commanding Officer, Strike Fighter Squadron Thirty-Two (VFA-32)
Leslie Mintz, Executive Officer, VFA-213
Cmdr. Paige Bloc, VFA-32
Cmdr. Danielle Thiriot, VFA-106
Cmdr. Jennifer Hesling, NAS Oceana
Christy Talisse, VFA-211
Amanda Lee, VFA-81
Emily Rixey, Strike Fighter Weapons School Atlantic

Patton! 34 years ago today

An M60A3 main battle tank moves along a street in Langgöns, Hesse, West Germany, during Central Guardian Reforger ’85 with M151 MUTTs and M113 APCs in the background. The tank belongs to the 3rd Btl, 32nd Armored Regiment according to its hull numbers and likely came from the nearby U.S. Army Depot at Gießen, which had been occupied by Uncle since 1945. The date on the image is 24 January 1985.

DF-ST-85-13331 Photo by SSG Fernando Serna

The M60A3 was the Army’s 1970s answer to rumors of the advanced new Soviet T-72 tanks across the Fulda Gap before the M1 Abrams could be fielded. The up-armored Patton picked up another 54mm of armor on the turret face, new electronics and fire control systems (including a then-advanced analog ballistic computer and the early AN/VGS2 tank thermal sight), and a new Continental AVDS-1790-2C diesel to help carry all that around. Some 5,400 legacy M60A1/A2s were rebuilt to the standard and 4,320 new tanks built by 1983 when the line was closed. The Army National Guard continued to use them into the 1990s.

As for the 32nd Armor– the unit which Elvis famously served in during the 50s– they deactivated in 2000 after seeing action (riding M1 Abrams) with the 3rd Armored Division in Desert Storm. The unit’s lineage is today carried by the 1st Squadron (RSTA), 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT, 101st Airborne (Air Assault).

The Gießen Depot was turned back over to the Germans slowly between 2007 and 2017.

50 years of unbroken patrols

In 1962, with the “Skybolt crisis,” which arrived when the promised GAM-87 Skybolt cruise missile tanked, leaving British Vulcan bombers hamstrung, the Royal Navy announced they would add a ballistic missile program to HMs Submarines and moved to produce five Resolution-class SSBNs, a 8,400-ton vessels each armed with 16 U.S.-made UGM-27 Polaris A-3 ballistic missiles, each able to deliver three British-made 200 k ET.317 warheads in the general area of a single metropolitan-sized target. This enabled a single British Polaris boomer (they actually call them bombers) on patrol to plaster the 16 most strategic targets in the CCCP.

With all of the moving parts and ominous tasking, the Resolutions, a modified Valiant-class design, were given traditional battleship/battlecruiser names (Resolution, Repulse, Renown, Revenge, and Ramillies) although just four were ultimately completed.

On 15 February 1968, HMS Resolution fired the first British Polaris on a test range off Florida and on 15 June began her first deterrent patrol.

HMS Resolution control room

By the next April, with Repulse and Renown accepted and ready for action, the Brits had enough bombers to keep a boat at sea at all times.

Now, fast forward 50 years and the British are celebrating an unbroken chain of deterrent patrols, of which they have completed nearly 400, having long ago switched to Trident-based SSBNs.

“The Continuous At-Sea Deterrence is the longest sustained military operation ever undertaken by the UK and this 50th anniversary year presents a valuable opportunity to recognize and thank those from the Naval Service and their families, the wider Ministry of Defence and our many industrial partners who have contributed to this vital national endeavor,” said First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones in an RN presser this week.

To celebrate the feat, the RN will issue special patrol pins to bomber submariners this year.

New silver ‘badges of honor’ will be given to veteran submariners as part of the 50th anniversary (Photo: RN)

As noted by the service, “Up to now, submariners who complete a single patrol have been awarded a pewter pin and those achieving 20 or more patrols presented with a gold deterrent pin. The new silver award bridges the gap between the two, being awarded after ten patrols.”

 

Brush up on your Leo I’s

Tank Museum Curator David Willey at the Bovington Tank Museum covers the Cold War classic, the good old Kampfpanzer Leopard I, which, in my opinion, in 1964 when they were introduced, were the king of the hill when it came to MBTs.

Ultimately, they were used by not only West Germany but also Australia, Belgium, Britain (the Hippo BARV), Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway while the tank, which has been out of production since 1984, is still serving with Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Greece, and Turkey.

Harold Brown, the MIRV-maker

Brown helped make the SSBN the go-to element of the nuclear triad and went on to become the 8th Secretary of the Air Force and 14th Secretary of Defense.

One of the most interesting SECDEFs to ever hold the position, Harold Brown, has passed away. A nuclear physicist, he joined the team (and later became the director at) what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1952 and led the group that created a smaller nuclear reentry vehicle for the Polaris missile and its replacements. To have a grasp on what this meant, the follow-on Poseidon could carry as many as 14 367-pound W68 warheads, each capable of 50 kilo-tons, whereas a MIRV’d Polaris could only carry 3 W58 warheads with a yield of 200 kilotons each. A lot more bang for the buck.

Brown was tapped by McNamara to become DoD’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the Kennedy administration and was the 8th SecAF under Johnson (during which the F-4 quickly replaced the F-105, which was taking a beating over Vietnam). Taking a break from government positions while Republicans were in the White House, he returned to become Carter’s SECDEF. While Carter gets a bad wrap for miserly military spending– which he actually inherited from Ford– it should be pointed out that Brown managed to shepherd modest increases in the Pentagon’s budget in FY78-80, and was a cheerleader for Trident, ALCMs for B-52s, and the MX missile, as well as deploying Pershing IRBMs to Western Europe– staying true to his nuclear roots, while pushing for the SALT II treaty. It can be argued that all of the above helped keep the Soviets, who had a massive tactical advantage, on their side of the Curtain in the 1980s.

On the downside, Brown canceled the B1 bomber (which Reagan rebooted), eschewed increasing the armament on the Spruance-class destroyers (they were so ill-armed when first built that they were called “Love Boats”) and presided over the Desert One Debacle.

Brown passed over the weekend of pancreatic cancer at the age of 91.

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