Tag Archives: Cold War

U.S. RC-135U spyplane and Russian Su-27 in one of the most dangerous aerial encounters since the Cold War.

According to U.S. Defense officials, the one between a U.S. RC-135U and a Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker was something more than a routine intercept.

The RC-135U is one of the most secretive U.S. surveillance planes. It provides strategic electronic reconnaissance information, performing signal analysis by means of a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf and proprietary hardware and software, including the Automatic Electronic Emitter Locating System.

In short, the Combat Sent can simultaneously locate, identify, and analyze multiple electronic signals.

Only two such kind of RC-135 are operated by the 55th Wing from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska but they are usually deployed abroad to keep an eye where needed.

On Apr. 23, a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker.

Unlike almost all similar episodes, occurring quite often during and after the Cold War across the world, the one conducted by the Russian Air Force Su-27 at the end of April was a “reckless intercept”, “one of the most dangerous aerial encounters for a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft since the Cold War,” according to Defense Officials who talked to Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz, who first unveiled the near collision.

According to the Pentagon, the first part of the interception was as standard: the Su-27 (most probably the leader of a flight of at least two Flankers) approached the RC-135U and positioned more or less abeam the “intruder”. Then, instead of breaking away after positive identification of the “zombie” without  crossing the line of flight of the intercepted aircraft, the Su-27 crossed the route of the U.S. spyplane putting itself within 100 feet of the Combat Sent.

A dangerous maneuver (not compliant with the international standards) that momentarily put the two aircraft in collision course.

An episode that reminds the far more dangerous close encouter of another U.S. spyplane with the Chinese Navy back in 2001.

On Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters.

One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.

The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.

Anyway, Russian pilots have been involved in similar incidents during intercept missions during the years. Just two examples.

On Sept. 13, 1987, a RNoAF P-3B had a mid air collision in similar circumstances with a Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker over the Barents Sea.

In Apr. 2012, whilst flying over the Barents Sea on a routine mission, a Norwegian P-3 Orion came across a Russian Air Force Mig-31 Foxhound.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

H/T to Giuseppe Stilo for the heads-up.

 

 

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Viggens operating from improvised airstrips in the forest: Cold War in Sweden

In Sweden, almost any strip road is a runway that can be used by Swedish Air Force fighter planes.

Here’s an interesting video, shot during the last days of the SAAB Viggen in Swedish Air Force service. The footage, shot in 2004, shows the underground bunkers that can still be found all over Sweden, and the operations connected to a “war time practice”.

During the Cold War period, Sweden could not expect its 30 airbases to survive an attack for more than a few hours. For this reason, the 1,000 planes of the Swedish Air Force were prepared to operate from mini airbases and straight roads around them, that would allow aircraft to take off and recover.

In case of crisis or just for training goals, aircraft would move from standard airbases to strips dispersed and partly hidden in the woods.

JAS-37 Viggen shown in the video have been retired and replaced by the SAAB Gripen.

H/T to Robin Vleij for the heads-up

 

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On this day in 1968 a B-52 crashed in Greenland with 4 hydrogen bombs

On Jan. 21, 1968, a B-52G Stratofortress belonging to the 380th Strategic Bomb Wing from Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York, crashed in in Greenland in what is remembered as the second “Broken Arrow” incident (yes, that codeword is not only used in movies).

The bomber, using radio callsign “Hobo 28″ was flying an armed peacetime airborne alert mission known under the codename of “Hard Head”:  its purpose was to maintain a visual surveillance of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), which provided early warning of Soviet missile launches, at Thule Air Base.

During the mission, the Stratofortress experienced a cockpit fire, failed to make an emergency landing at Thule and eventually crashed on sea ice in North Star Bay.

Six of the seven crew members were able to eject the aircraft but the four hydrogen bombs carried by the B-52 (that did not detonate because of “Weak Links” safety mechanisms) released radioactive material.

In spite of an attempt to restrict the leaks, the high winds, the cold temperatures and the fire caused by the burning Stratofortress caused the dispersion of some other radioactive material into the sea.

Btw, one of the four B-28 Thermonuclear remains unaccounted for, after 46 years.

The crash, which followed the other Broken Arrow incident occurred in Spain two years earlier, highlighted the safety (and diplomatic) risks those kind of airborne alert missions, which were immediately ended.

Image credit: Wiki

 

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Exclusive: Close encounter with “Ivan”, as seen from inside the Russian spyplane!

Close encounters between Russian strategic bombers, spyplanes and Western fighter jets scrambled to intercept them have been quite frequent since the Cold War.

Every month or so, a new image taken by one of those interceptors depicting a Tu-95 Bear, Tu-22 Backfire, Il-20 Coot ELINT/reconnaissance spyplane, during a long range patrol over the Baltic Sea, or close to Japan, emerges as a “proof” of the latest “provocation” or “near violation” of this or that nation’s sovereign airspace.

Whereas images taken by the interceptors are not so rare (nevertheless, they are extremely interesting!), there are not so many photos taken from inside the “zombies” (the targets of the fighter planes).

Here are some really interesting ones taken from inside a Russian spyplane in international waters sent by a reader.

F-15J 1

A JASDF F-15J on the right hand wing of the intercepted plane near Japan.

F-15J 2

Both Japanese F-15s shadowing the Russian spyplane.

F-15J close up

Close up.

Mirage F1

Mirage F1 over the Baltic Sea.

Mirage F1 close

Say “Cheese”

FinAF F-18

Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Hornet.

 

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Mig-25 defection: How a Soviet Pilot Brought a Secret Warplane To The West

Viktor Belenko, is a Mig-25 pilot who defected to the United States via Japan on Sept. 6, 1976.

The then Lieutenant Belenko was a pilot with the 513th Fighter Regiment, 11th Air Army, based in Chuguyevka, Primorsky Krai, in the east of the country.  When he brought his Mig-25 “Foxbat” to Hakodate he gave the Western intelligence officers the opportunity to give a first close look at one of the most secret airplanes of those years: a supersonic interceptor featuring a powerful radar, four air-to-air missiles and a top speed above Mach 3.

In order to assist the American experts in evaluating the aircraft, Belenko brought with him the pilot’s manual for the MiG-25 “Foxbat”, expecting to assist American pilots in evaluating and testing the aircraft.

Even if the Japanese government didn’t originally give full access to the plane, the Americans were later invited to examine the aircraft extensively: the Mig was dismantled for such purpose and later returned to the Soviet Union.

In his “Mig pilot” book (1983) John Barron claims that Viktor Belenko’s defection was completely voluntary and was the result of Belenko’s distrust on communist regime.

The MiG was delivered to Japan without the missiles, which were to be introduced in the Belenko’s training later on.

The mission was launched earlier than initially planned, because the KGB was about to stop Viktor Ivanovich Belenko from defection.

Image Credit: testpilot.ru

Although pilot defections during the Cold War were not a rarity, what made Belenko’s defection unique was the fact that the MiG-25 was completely unknown in the West.

This is the main point to bear in mind when thinking about Belenko and, unfortunately, this fact is often forgotten.

The ideological background for the events which took place in 1976 is deeply rooted in the beginnings of the post-war period.

As the Cold War was in progress there were many incidents and crises which closely led to a confrontation of the two superpowers.

One of these events was Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy flight on of May 1, 1960.

Power’s U-2 took off from USAF Peshawar Air Base in Pakistan for a GRAND SLAM mission, to investigate the Soviet missile and plutonium production plants.

Targets were Sverdlovsk, Plesetsk (ICBM sites) and Mayak – a plutonium plant.

The U-2 was a plane designed to fly well above the Soviet air defense Surface to Air Missile systems.

Its operational ceiling was out of the range of the Soviet interceptors and missiles but Powers’ flight was expected, all of the units and surface-to-air defenses were put on alert.

The MiGs pilots were ordered to ram the aircraft if necessary. The U-2 was eventually shot down by an S-75 Dvina missile near Degtayrsk in the Ural region.  Because of high g-force Powers had no chance of reaching the airplane’s self-destruction button and had to eject.

What is interesting is the fact that SAM crews did not know that the plane had already been shot down because MiG’s’ IFF transponders were not updated (May 1st is a national holiday), therefore several MiG’s were also shot down by S-75 rockets.

The political consequences of the spyflight were severe.

Shortly after the incident the Americans created a cover up story for Powers’ failure. NASA had announced in a very specific press relase that the pilot, having lost consciousness due to the problems with the oxygen equipment, had strayed into the Soviet territory with his autopilot engaged while doing a weather flight.

On May 7, Khrushchev announced that Powers has survived the crash and, nine days later, on May 16, 1960, during a Four Powers Paris Summit meeting with Harald MacMillan, Charles de Gaulle and Dwight Eisenhower  he called the U-2 incident an act of a “deliberate aggression.”

Eisenhower refused to apologize for the incident, claiming that the U-2 flight was not of aggressive nature, having only a purpose of ensuring US safety. The meeting collapsed.

At the time, Eisenhower was a proponent of so called Open-Sky Policy, according to which both sides would allow for reciprocal reconnaissance flights over their territories. Khrushchev did not agree. Powers was sentenced to 7 years of hard labor in a Gulag, but he was exchanged for a Russian spy Rudolf Abel on the famous Glinecke Bridge in Potsdam, connecting West and East Germany.

Image Credit: allaccess.com

Gary Powers incident sparked the development of the American Oxcart programme, with the goal to design the SR-71 spy plane, which in addition to flying high, also flew very fast, out of the range of the Soviet missiles’ operational envelope.

What is more, a D-21 drone reconnaissance system was created, to be carried by SR-71 as a parasite. The drone would be dropped, fly over the Soviet Union, return over the Pacific and drop the reconnaissance materials on a parachute.

Both these designs led to the development of a Soviet countermeasure – the MiG-25, known in NATO code as the Foxbat.

To be continued…

Written with David Cenciotti

Opening image: Leonid Faerberg (transport-photo.com)

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