NATO intercepts of Russian warplanes are up — way up:
Fighters from Belgium, Italy, Norway, and the UK assigned to the Baltic Air Policing Mission were scrambled to intercept 22 Russian aircraft as they transited through the region in a number of different formations over a two-week period.
In two of the largest interceptions ever seen, the UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) Eurofighter Typhoons based at Amari Airbase in Estonia identified and shadowed four Sukhoi Su-34 ‘Fullback’ strike aircraft, four MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’ interceptors, and a pair of Antonov An-26 ‘Curl’ transport aircraft on 24 July, while five days later NATO fighters tailed four MiG-31s, four Sukhoi Su-24 ‘Fencer’ strike aircraft, as well as three An-26 and one Ilyushin Il-76 ‘Candid’ transport aircraft that had been flying close to Latvian airspace.
As reported in the Financial Times , NATO officials said that the alliance has launched more than 250 scrambles against Russian aircraft so far this year over Europe – more than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Of these, 120 have taken place over the Baltic region.
But the news isn’t all doom & gloom, as Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Congress that the F-35’s teething problems are being dealt with:
“It has taken us too long, it has cost us way more money than we ever imagined possible,” James said of the most expensive weapons program in Pentagon history. “We’re very focused from now on to driving the cost down per unit and they are coming down.”
However, she noted that there were additional challenges to making the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II operational. “I would sum it up in one word – software,” James said, noting the 24 million lines of code in the aircraft.
James also agreed that an F-35A “didn’t do so well” in mock dogfights with an F-16 last January. The test pilot’s assessment, first reported by War Is Boring, said that the F-35 lacked the maneuverability to keep up with the F-16 and the F-35 pilot’s helmet cut down on his vision.
“There were multiple occasions when the bandit [F-16] would’ve been visible but the helmet prevented getting in a position to see him,” the report said.
On the hardware side, trimming that helmet down to a more manageable size might be a very prudent investment — not just to improve visibility, but to reduce pilot fatigue.