The following clip was aired by Zvevda, the Russian TV network owned by the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Filmed with GoPro cameras inside and/or outside Russian Air Force Yak-130s, Mi-28s, Ka-52s, Su-27s, Su-34s, Su-25s and Mig-29s the footage shows the biggest ever Victory Day parade over Red Square, on May 9, from a privileged point of view.
The Pentagon protested for the “reckless” and “unprofessional” behaviour of the Russian pilot who buzzed the U-Boat (as the RC-135U is nicknamed in the pilot community) and flew dangerously close to the American aircraft.
Few days ago, a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models, sent us an email and gave his point of view about the “U-Boat” intercept. Here’s what he explained to us:
“About the RC-135U intercept last week, the absence of a transponder signal is a non-issue. Having flown many of these missions, we used the concept of “see and avoid” where the pilot flying is responsible for avoiding all traffic conflicts, much like a VFR flight plan without flight following.
Given that the intercept took place in VMC there is simply no merit in the Russian accusations that the U-Boat was flying without an active transponder and therefore a dangerous risk.
The close proximity is equally moot.
Prior to the end of the Cold War interceptors from a variety of nations managed to get into tight formation with RC-135s and EP-3s. Smaller airplanes like MiG-21s made it easy. The challenge with the larger airplanes like the Su-27 and MiG-31 is the sheer size of the interceptor as it moves in front of any portion of the intercepted plane.
At least the Su-27 pilot has excellent all-around visibility to see where the back end of his own airplane is as he maneuvers adjacent to the RC-135.
The U-Boat crew took video of the intercept, which has not been released but shows the precise extent of how close the FLANKER really was. Recent movies taken by a PRC aircraft that was intercepted by a JASDF F-15CJ suggests that the Eagle was very close—until the camera zooms out and shows the Eagle was 70-100 feet away from the wingtip….
Finally, although the number of Russian reactions to Western recon flights has been increasing recently, for 15-20 years (certainly from 1992 through 2010) there were almost no reactions on a regular basis. As such, what passes for dangerous and provocative today was ho-hum to recon crews of my generation (although we weren’t shot at like the early fliers from 1950-1960).”
Russian warplanes usually deployed to Chkalovsk, Kaliningrad’s largest airfield, located 9 km northwest of Kaliningrad and able to accomodate bombers and interceptors. However, the base is being repaired and all the activities have moved to Chernyakhovsk were QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) is provided by Su-27 Flankers. Single ones since, unlike NATO planes that operate in pairs during air policing missions, Russian planes are scrambled singularly.
According to a rough translation provided by some readers and Twitter followers, the service aired by Zvezda (a Russian nationwide TV network run by the Russian Ministry of Defense) explains that, while securing the western borders of the motherland, Russian pilots constantly train for air-to-air combat, flying several daily sorties.
“There are sufficient resources are on duty to defend from any intruder.”
The interviews with pilots do not unveil anything special; still, the footage is interesting as it shows the flight ops in Kaliningrad: something you don’t see too often.
H/T @oplatsen and @alcebaid for the help with the translation
According to the Russian MoD, no emergency situation was registered during the close encounter and the intercept mission went as routine.
The Su-27 reached its target, flew around it several times, identified it as an RC-135U and reported its tail number to the ground control: more or less the same procedure NATO or U.S. planes follow when the intercept and shadow Russian spyplanes in northern Europe.
However, unless very slow-moving aircraft are intercepted, fighter jets usually don’t need to fly around the aerial target “several times”: they approach the target from astern and slowly get closer until the pilots can visually read the serials, registration etc.
Multiple passes are usually flown when interceptors can’t fly as slow as their targets and perform several passes to identify the aircraft and get all the details they need to transmit to the ground radar.
The RC-135U is one of the most secretive U.S. surveillance planes: deployed at RAF Mildenhall, in the UK, 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. It’s pretty clear why the Russian are unhappy when one of these planes flies in the vicinity of their bases.
One more detail worth a note is the fact that the Russians say the U.S. plane was flying with its transponder switched off: Russian spyplanes, that regularly fly with no transponder near Sweden have raised concern among Swedish authorities.
Aircraft flying without transponder in international airspace close to airliners routes and airports are not visible to the civilian air traffic control radars therefore they can pose a threat to civil planes unaware of their presence.
Still, the Mode-S transponder could be detected by ADS-B receivers according to Flightradar24.com (although it’s unclear whether the aircraft kept the transponder switched on during the whole mission, including the part of its flight when it was intercepted).
@RT_com The US aircraft had transponder ON. Transponder code: AE01D5 Registration: 64-14849 Callsign: TELEX97
Russian Deputy Minister of Defence Yuri Borisov, has recently announced that the PAK-FA programme may be halted or adjusted, due to the dire conditions of Russia’s economy, affected by the Ukrainian crisis and the subsequent (proxy war and) EU sanctions.
Initially, the Russian Air Force was expected to procure more than 150 PAK-FA next generation stealth fighter jets, with the first examples to be delivered to the active squadrons in 2016. In December 2014, the RuAF plans was to receive the first 55 fighters by 2020.
However, as announced by Russia’s MoD last month, the production will be slowed down and the initial order cut to 12 jets: the nation’s economy has deteriorated and the aircraft troubled development and increasing costs have persuaded the Russian Air Force to retain their large fleets of fourth-generation Sukhoi Su-27SM and Su-35S to obviate to the reduced amount of frontline next generation fighter jets.
According to the Polish media outlet Altair, the production is to be started next year, and the Russian Air Force would stop the production after the first 12 examples are acquired for a period of operational tests. This would serve two purposes: first of all, it would enable the Russian MoD to plan the procurement of Su-30SM and Su-35 jet fighters to eventually save some money. Secondly, that period would be used to test the PAK-FA’s operational capabilities, and possibly to get rid of any of the problems that could emerge during the initial field operations.
Sukhoi planned to sell some 400 fighters to the Russian and the Indian Air Force; figures that seems to be well above the current sales forecast: India has considerably reduced the requirement from 200 to no more than 130-145 jets, and has recently expressed concerns over the raising costs, delays and technical issues that have plagued the 10.5 billion USD FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft), that is based on the PAK-FA aircraft.