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‘Magnum!’ Flying A Wild Weasel Undertaking With The Twister ECR And The F-35

Tornado ECR
A Twister ECR and an F-35A all the way through a joint SEAD undertaking. (All photographs: Writer)

We had the original probability to peer how the Italian Twister ECRs staff up with the F-35s to hold out a SEAD undertaking.

“Wild Weasel” is a code identify given via the US Air Drive to an plane of any sort, supplied with anti-radiation missiles and tasked with the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) undertaking: destroying the radar and Floor-to-Air Missile installations of enemy air protection techniques. Inside the Italian Air Drive, the Wild Weasel undertaking is assigned to the 155° Gruppo ETS (Digital Conflict Tactical Suppression) “Pantere Nere” (“Black Panthers”) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) primarily based in Ghedi Air Base, northern Italy. The squadron operates with the Twister ECR MLU RET8.

Identical to the IDS fleet, that may formally have a good time its fortieth anniversary in September this yr, the Twister ECR have, through the years, been modernized since they had been first inducted into lively carrier. Between 2013 and 2018, 15 Twister ECRs had been upgraded to the RET8 same old as a part of a Mid-Existence Replace that offered new avionics sub-systems and a brand new undertaking device, and required adjustments to the guns control device so as to increase the array of armaments and undertaking rather a lot the plane can raise.

Twister ECR with two AGM-88 missiles.

Together with the INS/GPSintegrated NAV device aided via a MMR (Multi-Mode Receiver), the Twister ECR MLU RET8, designated EA-200D according to the Italian MOD Undertaking Design Sequence, is provided with an upgraded IFF device, and Knowledge-link device, with a brand new NVG-compatible interior and exterior lights techniques in addition to new MFDs (Multi-Serve as Shows) in each the pilot and navigator’s cockpits.

“Our number one position is SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) and DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses), two types of undertaking we feature out with the Twister ECR,” says Lt. Col. Michele, Commander of 155° Gruppo ETS, as he welcomes us in his place of job. “Relating to sensors, the ELS (Emitter Location Machine) is the onboard device that permits us to spot and geo-localise, in a horny rapid and correct approach, the bottom radars that may be related to the enemy anti-aircraft defenses.” Even supposing relatively identical, SEAD and DEAD missions are relatively other: the missile used for SEAD missions can smash an enemy radar making it unavailable for a undeniable time frame. Then again, if a alternative antenna is to be had, the air protection website online may also be restored and put again into carrier in an issue of a couple of days (if now not hours). The DEAD undertaking targets at destroying each the radar and the launchers in order that the SAM website online is rendered inoperative for an extended duration.

For DEAD missions, the Twister’s arsenal has been expanded in 2016 with the addition of the GPS-guided GBU-32 JDAM (Joint Protection Air Munition) bombs that complemented the ARM (Anti Radiation Missiles) used for SEAD missions: the AGM-88B HARM and the AGM-88E AARGM (Complex Anti Radiation Guided Missile). The latter is a follow-on variant of the HARM (Prime Pace Anti Radiation Missile), evolved beneath a US and Italian joint acquisition programme led via the USA Military. It options new device, stepped forward talent to geo-locate and neutralize the threats because of a multi-mode seeker that embeds a passive radar, and an lively millimeter wave sensors coupled with a GPS-aided inertial navigation device.

The 155° Gruppo, at the moment belonging to the 50° Stormo, primarily based at Piacenza, won the primary Tornados for the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) position in 1993. Designated IDS-HARM, the ones plane had been fitted with avionics for integrating the AGM-88B HARM. The present Twister ECRs, began being delivered in 1998.

The brand new missile used to be offered after a a success Operational Take a look at & Analysis (OT&E) marketing campaign, dubbed “Blazing Protect”, that noticed 4 Twister ECR deploy to Naval Air Guns Station China Lake, California, in April 2018, to adopt a sequence of exams and two are living firing occasions. “Even supposing we’ve won the brand new AGM-88E, the squadron keeps an ability with the AGM-88B: we nonetheless care for the Bravo model as it may be helpful is bound eventualities. Because of this we educate and fly with each sorts. For us, the missile is itself a sensor and because of this why we fly coaching missions normally sporting one or two AGM-88s”.

Even supposing the educational is role-specific, Twister of each variants can fly with combined aircrews if wanted: as an example, a pilot from 155° Gruppo and a navigator from 154° Gruppo on a Twister ECR or vice versa, because of the standardized coaching supplied via the Operational Conversion Unit.

Even supposing a phase-out date has now not but been formally showed, the Italian Air Drive has already determined that the SEAD/DEAD undertaking will transition to the F-35A Lightning II when the Twister ECR is retired.

In an ordinary cooperative SEAD undertaking, information amassed and fused via the F-35 is handed to the Twister ECR by way of Hyperlink 16. The AM places numerous effort into bettering the mixing between 4th and fifth gen. belongings.

“The present weapon device nonetheless permits us to hold out our undertaking in a great way. However we’ve already began running collectively with the F-35, this is the way forward for the Air Drive: a few of our pilots have already finished the transition to the F-35 and that is necessary as a result of we’re because of this we’re pouring a few of our revel in into the Lightning line.” It’s price remembering that whilst it has the power to come across and observe enemy forces, till the AARGM-ER (Prolonged Vary) is built-in at the sort, the F-35 nonetheless lacks a missile for SEAD missions, even if it may use more than a few stand-off guns, together with the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) that may be carried throughout the guns bays, to assault flooring objectives itself. All over the transition of the SEAD undertaking, 155° Gruppo and 13° Gruppo (the squadron that flies the F-35A of 32° Stormo out of Amendola AB) are exploring new tactics to take advantage of the most productive features each plane are ready to make to be had to the Wild Weasel undertaking.

The Twister ECRs of the 155° Gruppo steadily educate along the 154° Gruppo, that flies the Twister IDS within the assault position. Each devices are assigned to the 6° Stormo at Ghedi Air Base, in conjunction with the 102° Gruppo OCU (Operational Conversion Unit).

Extra information about the 155° Gruppo may also be discovered within the tale via this Writer “Italian Wild Weasels”, within the July 2022 factor of Struggle Airplane Magazine, at newsagents now!

With a view to see how the F-35 and the Twister paintings in combination, we got the chance to fly aboard a Twister ECR all the way through a SEAD undertaking that concerned 3 Tornados (2 ECRs + 1 IDS) from Ghedi (callsigns PANTE 1-3) and two F-35A of the 13° Gruppo of the 32° Stormo from Amendola (FALCO 31-32). Right here’s the way it went.

Searching radars with the Black Panthers

On Feb. 16, 2022 we flew a undertaking with the 155° Gruppo. The undertaking used to be deliberate to happen within R48, a limited airspace situated above central Italy, roughly mid-way between the departure airbases of the “Tonkas” and the F-35 Lightnings that joined us to hold out a SEAD undertaking that might leverage the features of each 4th and fifth technology plane. The take-off time used to be at 13.00Z (14.00LT) with a WALK to the plane at 12.00Z so we spent many of the morning within the making plans of the undertaking that, in contrast to sorties flown with best native belongings, additionally incorporated a Protected Video Convention with the 2 F-35 pilots from Amendola AB to study the entire plan, together with block ranges, activity sharing and protection measures. For example, to verify correct deconflictions, we had been assigned block altitudes between FL130 and FL150 (with plane separated via 1,000 toes) while the F-35s had been assigned the block FL160-180. The transit time to the operational space used to be about half-hour, then we had 30-45 mins “play time” earlier than the RTB part (lasting every other part an hour).

Selfie within the backseat of the Twister ECR.

The sensitivity of the undertaking and the kind of belongings concerned within the sortie don’t let us reveal many information about the true “kinetic” a part of the sortie, however what we will be able to say is that the undertaking used to be deliberate in order that the F-35s used their sensor cooperating with ECRs so as to come across and ID the objectives, percentage positions witihin platforms and permit Tornados to make use of AGM-88: the 2 ECRs carried two inert Hurt missiles, while the IDS, flown via a 155° Gruppo pilot, didn’t raise any armament nevertheless it took phase within the undertaking flying the similar undertaking profile as the remainder of the ECR. The undertaking had a two-fold function: put the SEAD/DEAD techniques to check and toughen the 4th/fifth technology cooperation. A few of the more than a few imaginable eventualities, a SEAD undertaking collectively performed via the 2 sorts can see an preliminary part the place F-35s use their ESM (Digital Improve Measures) features cooperating with ECRs to discover the emissions of the enemy radars, acquire the EOB and go the related concentrated on data to the Twister ECRs in order to make use of AGM-88 from out of doors the envelope of the SAM batteries. The normal “Magnum” codeword (used for the reason that first Gulf Warfare via the SEAD plane upon firing their anti-radiation missiles) is radioed to announce the release of an AGM-88.

As mentioned, we will be able to’t supply many extra information about the undertaking rather than announcing that it used to be “a success”.

“The mixing with the F-35 is the most important. We exploit the F-35’s sensor fusion and the power of the fifth technology plane to disseminate the ideas to us by way of Hyperlink 16.” Lt. Col. Michele’s phrases are echoed via the F-35s pilots we had the chance to speak to: “The SEAD/DEAD capacity is the F-35’s core trade. The pilots of our squadron have already received a huge revel in in using the plane in this type of undertaking, that is a part of the educational of an F-35 pilot for the reason that very early levels of the educational procedure.” Simulated SEAD/DEAD missions that see the mixing of the Twister ECRs and the F-35s are flown relatively ceaselessly. “We educate for this type of undertaking with legacy belongings each time we’ve the chance. The learning profile of the F-35 pilots features a particular undertaking that embeds Fighter Integration techniques all the way through which the 2 belongings cooperate the usage of two other air-to-surface guns”.

The Twister ECR and IDS of the 6° Stormo steadily educate with the F-35A of the 13° Gruppo/32° Stormo from Amendola: the fifth technology plane will change each sorts someday.


David Cenciotti is a contract journalist primarily based in Rome, Italy. He’s the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the most global’s most famed and browse army aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for primary international magazines, together with Air Forces Per thirty days, Struggle Airplane, and lots of others, overlaying aviation, protection, conflict, business, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown a number of struggle planes with other air forces. He’s a former 2d Lt. of the Italian Air Drive, a non-public pilot and a graduate in Laptop Engineering. He has written 5 books and contributed to many extra ones.

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