Following last week downing of a Turkey Air Force F-4 Phantom by Syrian Air Defense, we look into the fleet of 54 F-4E 2020 Phantom that equip Turkey’s 111 and 171 Filo. Dubbed F-4E Phantom 2020, these aircraft are F-4E airframes initially delivered by the US between 1974 and 1992 but upgraded by Israeli Aircraft Industries Lahav Division between 1999 and 2003. Hence they retain the highly robust and popular basic mating of the F-4 airframe to the two reliable General Electric J-79 powerplants, to which highly sophisticated electronics flight and missions systems have been added. All the results of intense indigenous Israeli combat systems development backed by strenuous and uniquely valuable operational experience.
International Air Power Review estimates that some 182 F-4E multirole fighters and 52 RF-4E (reconnaissance version) aircraft have been transferred from the USAF to Turkey as part of Peace Diamonds III program between 1974 and 1992. Another batch of 40 retired purely reconnaissance RF-4C have been acquired from Germany in 1992.
Upgrading the F-4E to 2020 standard
The F-4E Phantom 2020 upgrade project for Turkey Air Force saw 54 earlier generation F-4E upgraded by IAI . According to Janes publication the two prototypes were handed over to Turkey January 27th 2000. During the 1980’s IAI had accumulated considerable experience bringing Israel Air Force F-4E fleet to the Phantom 2000 standard. The Israeli F-4-2000 upgrade consisted of a thorough structural life extension program and systems modernization effort that would see the plane acquire vastly improved all weather multi role capabilities and, receive a new nick name the Kurnass (hammer).
Re-engineering and re-arming the Phantom
The F-4E Phantom 2020 proposal to Turkey was designed to increase the aircraft useful life and capabilities incorporated more recently developed Israeli systems intended for the failed Lavi Indigenous Fighter Program. With Elbit as a main system integration contractor , and Lahav for airframe modification, the F-4 2020 service life was programmed to last until about 2020 when Turkey would induct F-35 JSF. As a result the aircraft has received vastly superior mission systems. The Kairser wide angle HUD on the Kurnass was retained while the Norden APG-76 SAR radar was replaced by the powerful ELTA 2032 fire control radar. The F-4E 2020 also acquired the AN/ALQ-178 passive Self Protection Suite as implemented by Turkey’s MIKES Electronics, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) flight controls, ELTA EL/L-8222 Electronic Counter Measures pod as well as MIL-STD-1553B on-board networking bus. Other sources state that an El-Op 976 wide-angle HUD was installed. Work on the aircraft structural integrity has added another 6,000 life hours to the current average 5,000 hours utilization baseline on the 54 selected airframes. With a single Multi Function Display installed in front of the pilot and two made available to the WSO (Weapons Systems Officer), the aircraft could now uses GPS/INS precision navigation and Mil std 1553B databus. The re-wiring of 20 km of electrical wires and newer hydraulic and pneumatic systems added to the aircraft shaved 750 kg (1,653 lbs) of weight.
Installed on standard Sidewinder missile railings, the EL/L-8022 Jamming Pod provides ESM (Electronic Support Measures) capabilities against hostile electronic threat emissions with automatic jamming. Elta designed the system to be retrofitted to F-16, F-18, F-15, F-111, F-5, F-4 and A-4 to protect against current or evolving air-to-air and surface-to-air threats.
The internally mounted AN/ALQ-178(V)3 provides advanced RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) and ECM (Electronic Counter Measure) integrating automatic release of chaff and flares thus increasing survivability while reducing pilot workload in high threat environment.
The ELM-2032 Fire Control multi mode air and ground radar is at the heart of the F-4E 2020 offensive capabilities. Its effective air-to-air operation is promoted by a very low sidelobe planar antenna design and programmable signal processor giving a 80 nm target detection range and at least 6 modes of engagement using primarily the AIM-9L/M Sidewinder missiles. The -2032 is even better for air-to-ground targeting capabilities at ranges of 80 nm on surface, and out to 160 nm at sea. SAR-enabled (Synthetic Aperture Radar) high resolution mapping allow for pin point targeting of very small targets on the ground or at sea.
The aircraft is wired to fire modern TV-guided, IR-guided (Litening II targeting Pod) and Laser guided US made air-to-ground munitions like the AGM-65G Maverick, GBU-10/12. Advanced Israeli weapons such as the Pyhton-3/-4 air-to-air missiles and Rafael Popeye 1 precision Anti-Surface missiles can also be employed.
The RF-4C/E Reconnaissance variant
According to Air Power International Review, the RF-4E reconnaissance version has been known to use at least three different cameras: the AAD-5 IR, KA-56 panoramic camera and KS-87 optical cameras for forward and oblique observation. As an option the Goodyear UPD-4 SLAR (Side Looking Airborne Radar) can be fitted. It is speculated that a new EO/IR LOROP (Electro Optical/Infra Red Long Range Oblique Photography) may have been integrated since the middle of the last decade. The most potent formula remain the centreline-attached original G-139 Electro Optical/Infra Red sensor which operates in the visible and invisible Infra Red spectral band at high resolution on large area with real time capabilities at 62 miles (100 km). Most of these aircraft have been retrofitted with the APQ-172 radar replacing the APQ-99.
Was a remote-controlled QF-4 target drone used to trigger and locate Syria’s new SAM?
From this brief technical analysis, it is possible that the aircraft shot down by Syrian Air Defenses may have been a RF-4C/E attempting to locate and photograph the new Buk-M1 Surface to Air Missiles delivered by Russia. However a variety of scenario remain. For this type of mission an ESM capable aircraft (the F-4 2020) could have been passively listening to the Buk-M1 SAM 9S18M1-1 radar emission. Using a convincingly enough hostile flight attitude would have forced the Buk-M1 SAM operator to illuminate the intruding F-4, hence revealing the SAM radar location. And again would it be possible that a remotely piloted QF-4 drone was used instead? Whatever the scenario and motives, the decision and responsibility to open fire was Syria’s sole whether consisting of shooting down an Israeli F-4 2000 Kurnass , a Turkey F-4 2020 or any other derivative F-4 aircraft.
credits: International Air Power review vol 14