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Late Flightline Friday: Dangerous lapse in OPSEC allows ISIS to track coalition flights August 31, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, error, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, huh?, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

Just for Woody, who I never knew has such an attachment to Flightline Friday, a brief post looking at another serious failing of the politically-limited and highly ineffectual US/Western intervention against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  It appears many combat aircraft are flying missions without turning off their transponders, which means they can be tracked by flight tracking software.  Thus, all ISIS would have to do to put, say, a battery of SAMs or AAA directly under the flight path of an Air Force tanker or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft is to pull up the internet and see who’s flying where:

In October 2014 we highlighted the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions after we discovered that a U.S. plane possibly supporting ground troops in Afghanistan acting as an advanced communication relay can be regularly tracked as it circles over the Ghazni Province.

The only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations.

Although such risk was already exposed during opening stages of the Libya Air War, when some of the aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearlytrackable on FR.24 or PF.net and despite pilots all around the world know the above mentioned websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations making the aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection.

During the last few months many readers have sent us screenshots they took on FR24.com or PF.net (that only collect ADS-B broadcast by aircraft in the clear) showing military planes belonging to different air forces over Iraq or Afghanistan: mainly tankers and some special operations planes.

We have informed the U.S. Air Force and other air forces that their planes could be tracked online, live, several times, but our Tweets (and those of our Tweeps who retweeted us) or emails have not had any effect as little has changed. Maybe they don’t consider their tankers’ racetrack position or the area of operations of an MC-12 ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft a sensitive information…

Pics of military flights being tracked in combat zones below.

There are potential operational explanations for this, but I don’t think many of them would redound to the credit of the military effort against ISIS.  For one thing, non-tactical aircraft (cargo aircraft, recce, tankers, etc) may be squawking Mode C because there is no AWACS coverage over much of the battlefield and it is felt necessary to run with transponders on to reduce chances of midairs.  A second allied explanation would be to held civilian air traffic control de-conflict airspace containing both military and commercial flights.  But that again is a function AWACS can perform.  There certainly are AWACS deployed in the theater, there have been for 25 years continuously now, but there may not be enough of them to cover the large region from the Med to Iran, Turkey to Jordan/Saudi.

Or, it could simply be sloppy practice and further indication of the half-heartedness fo this “air campaign,” which is more a series of pinprick attacks than a real, concerted effort to destroy ISIS.  It was reported over the weekend that US/Allied aircraft are not attacking ISIS’ dozens of training camps, which are turning out 1000 crazed islamist fighters a month, because of inordinate concern of collateral damage.  This, when we already know that ISIS itself has slaughtered tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocents itself, far, far more than would be threatened by striking the training facilities.

My personal belief is that Obama doesn’t want ISIS destroyed and is only conducting this very limited campaign (the US is attacking only about 15 targets a day, many of them empty desert.  Contrast that with Desert Storm, when a thousand or more targets were struck in the first 24 hours.

Obama cares not whether ISIS grows or dies, he only cares about his already tattered legacy.  And, quite possibly, doing all he can to aid the ummah.


MC-12 over Iraq

Special Operations aircraft in region

Special Operations aircraft in region

Canadian tanker over Iraq

Canadian tanker over Iraq



1. Woody - August 31, 2015

You da man, Tant, you da man! I can make it through the week now. Thank you!

Tantumblogo - August 31, 2015

I have to say that in the 80s or 90s Air Force, squawking Mode C in a combat zone would have been a quick trip to a desk assignment. Standards have slipped badly, no matter what excuse is proffered, this is insane.

Woody - August 31, 2015

Also, thanks for the link to the aviation blog. The comments there about this problem were great! Almost as good as the comments on this blog.

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