Ukraine conflict: Russia may return Soviet-era ISTAR aircraft to service, UK MoD

by Gareth Jennings

The Myasishchev M-55 ‘Mystic-B' high-altitude aircraft may be returned to service by Russia to fill an ISTAR gap over Ukraine. (Janes/Paul Jackson)

Russia may be about to return to service its Soviet Union-era Myasishchev M-55 ‘Mystic-B' high-altitude aircraft as it looks to fill an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability gap, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has ascertained.

The UK MoD said in its Defence Intelligence update on Ukraine on 19 November that “Russia is likely considering bringing the M-55 aircraft back into service”, noting “a critical flaw in Russian procurement strategy has been its failure to establish an adequate ISTAR capability. This is critical for the timely and accurate prosecution of targets by air, sea, and ground forces”. For the MoD, ‘likely' represents a 55–75% probability.

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First remanufactured Apache helos arrive in Netherlands

by Gareth Jennings

The first of 28 Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64D Apaches to be converted to the latest AH-64E standard seen at its rollout in March 2022. (Netherlands Ministry of Defence)

The first Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters to be remanufactured to the latest AH-64E Apache Guardian standard have arrived back in the Netherlands.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) said on 7 December that the first two of 20 helicopters to be operated in the Netherlands (a further eight will be sent to Fort Cavazos – formerly Fort Hood – in Texas for training) were transported via a US Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III airlifter to Woensdrecht Air Base.

These and follow-on helicopters will be assembled and tested at Woensdrecht, before being flown to their future operating station of Gilze-Rijen Air Base.

The Netherlands began shipping its AH-64D helicopters to Boeing's Apache production facility at Mesa, Arizona, for overhaul and remanufacture to the latest AH-64E standard in November 2020.

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Sweden completes NH90 SAR upgrade

by Gareth Jennings

Sweden has now received back into service seven NH90 search-and-rescue helicopters following an upgrade programme. (Swedish Air Force)

Sweden has received back into service the final NHIndustries (NHI) NH90 – Helikopter (HKP) 14 in national service – search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter upgraded to the final operating capability (FOC) standard.

NHI announced the milestone on 5 December, saying the last of seven SAR-configured NH90 Tactical Troop Transport (TTT) helicopters to be upgraded in partnership with Patria had been delivered back to the Swedish Armed Forces some days earlier on 30 November.

The Swedish Air Force (SwAF) fields 18 NH90 TTT – a designation given when the Nordic Standard Helicopter Project with Finland and Norway was launched in 2001 – with 11 HKP 14Fs being rolled for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and seven HKP 14Es for SAR.

Sweden's NH90s are of a bespoke high-cabin configuration – the split between the ASW and SAR roles has changed since deliveries were launched in 2011, as the country's operational objectives shifted back more towards ASW as relations with Russia have deteriorated.

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Portugal eyes F-35 buy

by Victor Barreira

With many of its European allies, including Norway (pictured), fielding the F-35A, Portugal is now eyeing the type also. (Royal Norwegian Air Force)

The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II aircraft could emerge as the next combat aircraft in the inventory of the Portuguese Air Force (FAP).

The Chief of Staff of the FAP, General João Guilherme Rosado Cartaxo Alves, described the F-35A as the preferred choice to replace the Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon on 27 November.

Speaking at the SAE Media Group Military Airlift and Air-to-Air Refuelling conference in Lisbon, Gen Alves said the replacement process must start to prevent a loss of strategic relevance and operational credibility. He also noted that most European allies had already started the transition to the F-35.

The existing F-16AM/BM could extend its operational capability until 2030, however, with increasing levels of obsolescence, he said at the event in late November. Gen Alves confirmed that an acquisition will occur after 2030 as part of the newly established ‘Air Force 5.3' modernisation plan.

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