Exercise Global Thunder 15 (first exercise for FY 2015, hence the 15) “is a command and control exercise designed to train Department of Defense forces and assess joint operational readiness across all of USSTRATCOM’s mission areas with a specific focus on nuclear readiness.”
Conducted in coordination with North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command’s Exercise Vigilant Shield 15 (attended by tactical warplanes with the aim to train homeland defense forces), Global Thunder 15 is a realistic exercise during which nearly every USSTRATCOM component, task force, unit, command post and bomb wing takes part in the training events which are aimed at improving all the Command capabilities: space, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, global strike, and ballistic missile defense.
Some strategic bombers route up over Nova Scotia and up past Thule/Greenland and either go all the way around North of Canada and back down through Canada/Alaska or they turn round and go back the way they came. Other waves go up over Alaska first and come back down viceversa.
A one-day simulated nuclear war.
Richard Cliff, a reader of The Aviationist and military aviation expert noticed that, usually after every Global Thunder, the Russians seem to launch similar long-range bomber missions, as those that caused the alert scrambles by NATO QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) cells across Europe.
“I’m instructed by Her Majesty’s government of the United Kingdom to warn you if you do not respond you will be shot down”
On Oct. 29, two RAF Typhoon fighter jets were scrambled from RAF Coningsby airbase, and flew at supersonic speeds across the UK to intercept a Latvian Antonov An-26 cargo plane that took an unauthorized detour over London causing concern to civil air traffic control.
The two Eurofighter warplanes on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) reached the Russian-built cargo plane (registration YL-RAA) on its way to Birmingham airport and forced it to land at Stansted airport.
Interestingly, the pilot of the lead RAF Typhoon (radio callsign “L9T47″) which intercepted the Latvian plane (callsign MLA1605) radioed warning the three-man crew on board the foreign plane to listen to military instructions or risk being ‘shot down’.
The following day, Oct. 29, three large packages of Russian planes skirting NATO “airspace” were detected and monitored by aircraft on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) in both northern Europe and Turkey.
“These sizable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace,” said NATO in an official statement.
At approximately 3:00 a.m. CET NATO radars detected and tracked eight Russian aircraft flying in formation over the North Sea, in international airspace.
The Royal Norwegian Air Force scrambled its F-16s in QRA that intercepted and identified the Russian aircraft as four Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircraft.
In what can be seen as a “show of force”, two of the Russian strategic bombers flew parallel to the Norwegian coast, heading to the south-west and were intercepted by Eurofighter Typhoon jets scrambled by the Royal Air Force (whereas the remaining 6 Russian Air Force planes returned towards Russia).
According to NATO, “The bomber and tanker aircraft from Russia did not file flight plans or maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control authorities and they were not using on-board transponders. This poses a potential risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.”
Later on the same day, whilst the Tu-95 returned towards Russia, NATO radars detected and tracked four Russian aircraft flying over the Black Sea in international air space: 2 Tu-95 Bear-H bombers and 2 Su-27 Flanker fighter jets.
During the afternoon of Oct. 29 October, NATO radars detected and tracked 7 Russian planes over the Baltics (needless to say, in international airspace): 2x MiG-31 Foxhound, 2x Su-34 Fullback, 1x Su-27 Flanker and 2x Su-24 Fencer jets (these were probably the very same aircraft intercepted on Oct. 28).
Portuguese F-16 Fighters assigned to the Baltic Air Policing Mission were scrambled from Šiauliai, Lithuania. It’s unclear whether they reached the package or not; anyway, the Russian Air Force planes returned to Russia’s airspace.
Developed within a German-led multinational program as a short-range air-to-air missile to replace the ageing AIM-9 Sidewinder the IRIS-T has a range of 25 km and can engage targets flying behind the launching platform thanks to an extreme close-in agility which allows turns of 60 g at a rate of 60°/s.
Interestingly, as the top image (taken by The Aviationist’s contributor Giovanni Maduli) shows, the dummy IRIS-T missile was carried on an underwing pylon while previous tests with the AIM-9L Sidewinder were carried out with the air-to-air missiles mounted on the wing tip launchers.