Why are two Russian Il-78 Midas tankers deployed to Egypt? Are Moscow’s bombers heading to the Mediterranean Sea?

The presence of two Il-78M Midas tankers in Egypt fuels theories about past and future Russian Air Force missions across the world.

A photo taken at Cairo International airport on Oct. 29 proves the Russian have deployed two Il-78M Midas tankers to Egypt. The reason behind their presence in North Africa is still unclear.

Il-78M Midas Cairo

Image credit: Flo Weiss

There are chances that the Russians deployed the tankers to Egypt in support of the long range missions flown across northern Europe as far as the Atlantic off Portugal on both Oct. 30 and 31: most probably they were using the tankers to support the trip of the Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers, intercepted and escorted by several air forces including the Portuguese along their way, to the southern Atlantic.

One radio enthusiast on Twitter noted a message being relayed to Bort 94290 (IL-78M) and passing (Heading Easterly) waypoint EVIRA (East of Malta).

Then, according to Tom Hill, a radio enthusiast and reader of The Aviationist, the Tu-95MS and IL-78Ms were active in Voice and Morse Code.

The Russians still use quite a lot of Morse and especially for these extended out of area missions. They send the same short 3 figure tactical messages back to their control in Russia using Morse and Voice. Radio enthusiasts were busy logging the activity last week.

“I just copied the Morse. You can’t really get any info from the Morse as it is short encoded three figure groups. They send the same in Voice. The only thing different here was the IL-78s using the Bort number in voice for the air route over the Mediterranean. Morse Key fit on Tu-95MS radio operators station. On the HF radios you can see 8909 KHz USB set up for the voice transmissions. This is the frequency they use during the Summer,” Hill explained in an email to us.

Even though at least one of the two IL-78Ms (RF-94920) was heard passing a waypoint in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, it’s still unclear whether it really refueled the Tu-95s that flew to the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal FIR (Flight Information Region), and back (remaining in international airspace).

Was it just a practice for future missions or perhaps the Russians are intending to route Tu-95MS Bear Hs into the Mediterranean?

If so, maybe we are going to see some shots of the Russian bombers as those taken by the Italian air force pilots during their Cold War intercepts.

The puzzle is also: how did the IL-78Ms get to Egypt? Did they deploy through the Gibraltar Straits or did they take the Iran, Iraq and Syria route? Possibly the Iranians were a bit twitchy about combat aircraft such as Tu-95s deploying but they allowed the tanker support?

Tom Hill has contributed to this article

Top Image: Vitaly Kuzmin


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


    • Ahhh yes the fantasy that because a black man is in the white house other nations are not “scared” of us …. scared of what? That if say, Mitt Romney (ohh, scarrryy) was in the WH he would shoot these guys down? Can you make any sense at all? How does a paltry reduction in future spending increases translate into invigorating other countries, who have much smaller defense spending/air forces, to.. what… attack us? Oh no, you are all doomsday over some tankers being in Egypt. Egypt. How far away is Egypt from America?

    • Well thats a bit of a sad attitude. No one is scared of the USA? To desire countries to fear the USA because of harsh and significant reprisals is a bit grim.

      • Surprise! Strategic thought is dead in the US. If you had today’s Bush-Obama military geniuses in charge in the 1990’s, the US would never have extracted its troops from the Fulda Gap. American’s have become like the Russians. We are good no matter what we do, and everything we do is allowed while at the same time everything anyone we don’t like does is bad. America is the new Soviet. Self control is no longer in our lexicon, nor is the ability to look at the world through other peoples eyes. We expect to show up with troops and at the same time expect the vanquished to start acting like Germans and Japanese after WWII. What I find amazing are the strong parallels between what the USA does today vs what the USSR did in it’s day. We’ve Sovietized.

  1. Only two IL-78 in Egypt and Moscow is making expansions plans!! come on!, what about the hundreds of americans KC-135, KC-10 around the world?

  2. Oh gawd I’m so frightened by the deployment of 2 (TWO) Russian tankers to Egypt and the fact that some Russian Bombers might fly in international airspace over the Mediterranean…imma build an anti atomic bunker…

  3. Are there not cargo versions of this plane? I am sure Syria is not short of aviation fuel, and Russia and Syria are allies. the IL-78 has two removable 18,230-liter fuel tanks installed in the freight hold, giving transferable loads of 85,720 kg (188,980 lb) (with hold tanks) or 57,720 kg (127,250 lb) (without). Another possability is that one is for refuelling and the other is being used as a freighter. Question is, what is the cargo if it’s not fuel?

    • the question is will egypt let Russia help Syria using its territory?
      Could Russia be planning to launch strikes against ISIS

  4. Could Russia be planning to launch strikes against ISIS and These are to refuel Bombers flying to ME?

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