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US pilot who made first air-to-air kill since 1999 breaks silence over incident

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© REUTERS/ U.S. Navy

The American fighter pilot who became the first to shoot down an enemy aircraft in battle in 18 years has broken his silence about the experience in an interview with British military outlet SavetheRoyalNavy.org.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel, an F/A-18E Super Hornet pilot assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 87 aboard the carrier USS George H.W. Bush, says the entire fateful battle with a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter on June 18 lasted about eight minutes.

Tremel engaged a Syrian pilot who had been dropping munitions on US-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces south of the city of Tabqah in the Raqqa Governorate. Tremel made the call to shoot the plane down himself.

In a report issued after the incident, US officials added that the Su-22 was shot down in accordance with the rules of engagement, with Tremel’s first missile (an infrared-guided AIM-9X Sidewinder) missing and his second (a radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM) finding its mark.

I did not directly communicate with the Syrian jet, but he was given several warnings by our supporting [E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control] aircraft,” Tremel said, according to the report. “So yes, we released ordnance and yes it hit a target that was in the air, but it really just came back to defending those guys that were doing the hard job on the ground and taking that ground back from [Daesh].

Tremel added that he didn’t see the Syrian pilot eject, but his wingman did. He downplayed his own accomplishment in his comments.

“When you think about the shoot-down, in the grand scheme of things… [my wing-man and I] flew over 400 missions in support of friendly forces on the ground.”

In January, the USS Bush deployed from its homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, and undertook a six-month campaign of airstrikes against Daesh from the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The Bush’s deployment is wrapping up, but it will immediately be replaced with another aircraft carrier: the USS Nimitz.

Speaking of his encounters with Russian aircraft in the unfriendly skies over Syria, Tremel said that “they behaved with great professionalism at all times.” Earlier in June, a US aircraft shot down an Iranian drone in the first US air-to-air engagement of an aircraft since 2009.

The last time a US pilot made an air-to-air kill was during the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999.

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Air Force

Pentagon Considering Retiring 100 F-35s Before They Ever Fly

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The US Department of Defense is considering a change in direction with their fleet of F-35s, in which more than 100 fighters would be retired from combat rather than upgraded with a new software configuration.

Of the 1,763 F-35s intended to enter service with the US Air Force, 108 are in need of a software upgrade from Block 2B platform to the combat-ready Block 3F. This configuration change would be time-consuming and expensive, with 150 modifications needed in every aircraft to bring them up to standards.

It might be cheaper to simply take the older F-35s in need of upgrades and use them for testing or training purposes instead. The USAF is currently conducting a business case analysis to determine which option is better for the budget.

“What you’re going to see is us continue to do a business case analysis of the cost to retrofit the older aircraft as we go forward. This is not a big dialogue,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on September 19, downplaying the significance of the consideration. “We have actually had this dialogue with the F-16, we had this dialogue with the F-15, we had this dialogue with the F-22. We just haven’t had it for a while.”

In the case of the F-22, three dozen fighters were retired when it came time to upgrade, with the USAF opting to use them for training instead. The US Marine Corps and Navy also operate F-35s, and Goldfein says that he will be discussing how best to move forward with his counterparts in those branches.

The 2018 Defense Authorization Bill calls for the purchase of 440 F-35s, a deal expected to be valued between $35 billion and $40 billion. The Pentagon, however, claims that the program continues to mount in cost.

The ever-controversial F-35 has become infamous for its high price tag and numerous design flaws, including a faulty ejector seat. The plane is so expensive that Lockheed Martin has been awarded $200 million in contracts to attempt to halve the aircraft’s cost.

It has also long been rumored that the F-35 costs too much to continuously modernize. A 2015 Pentagon report from an independent weapons tester found that the plane’s “modifications may be unaffordable for the services as they consider the cost of upgrading these early lots of aircraft while the program continues to increase production rates in a fiscally constrained environment.”

“This may potentially result in left-behind aircraft with significant limitations for years to come.”

After a quarter century of development, the F-35 has yet to see combat even once. Full production is intended to start in 2018.

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Video of US F/A 18 Super Hornet Shooting Down Syrian Su-22 Revealed

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Newly unveiled footage shows the exact moment a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter on June 18 over Resafa, Syria, the US military’s first air-to-air kill between conventional manned aircraft in almost 20 years.

As Popular Mechanics reported June 26, the Super Hornet’s first attempt at downing the aging Syrian ground attack aircraft with an AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile missed. The Syrian pilot launched flares to divert the infrared-guided missile and it took the bait. The Super Hornet then fired a radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM (advanced medium range air-to-air missile) at the Fitter that was more successful, shooting it down, The Aviationist reported Thursday.

Based on the varied angles shown in the footage, the film appears to have been captured by other Super Hornets flying in the same sortie.

The incident was spurred by the Su-22 allegedly dropping payloads “near [US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces] south of Tabqah,” US Central Command said in a June 18 statement following the incident.

After taking off from the USS George H.W. Bush in the Mediterranean Sea, F/A-18 pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel noticed the area of responsibility “was pretty hot in that general vicinity and a lot of guys were dropping bombs,” Sputnik reported September 18.

We released ordnance and yes it hit a target that was in the air, but it really just came back to defending those guys that were doing the hard job on the ground and taking that ground back from [Daesh],” Tremel said in an earlier interview.

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