Check Out This Really Unusual “Formation”: USAF B-1Bs, B-52H, KC-135R Escorted by Russian SU-27 Over Baltic.

Jun 12 2017 - 17 Comments
By Tom Demerly

Here are some extraordinary pictures of a really unsual “close encounter” over the Baltic Sea.

In yet another sensational encounter between U.S. and Russian aircraft, two B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing, a B-52H Stratofortress from the 2nd Bomb Wing (both deployed to RAF Fairford, UK) and a KC-135R Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft from the 459th Air Refueling Squadron were intercepted and observed by a Russian SU-27 Flanker on Friday, June 9 over the Baltic Sea.

The U.S. bomber and tanker formation was participating in BALTOPS, an aerial deployment exercise that rehearses and improves cooperation and interoperability between U.S. and international units and as a demonstration of U.S. capabilities in the region to reinforce the U.S. commitment to security.

U.S. Air Force photographer Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder shot these photos (from the boom position of a KC-135 tanker) during the Friday intercept. The U.S. Air Force said officially that, “Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner.”

However the list of intercepts deemed “unsafe” or “unprofessional” from the U.S. DoD is pretty long… (read here or here for a couple of examples.)

A Russian Su-27 Flanker intercepts a formation of U.S. Air Force aircraft, two B-1B Lancers, 28th Bomb Wing, KC-135R Stratotanker, 459th Air Refueling Squadron and B-52H Stratofortress, 2nd Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

There has been an increase in intercepts between NATO, U.S. and Russian aircraft during the last 24 months in what seems like a slightly less-tense return to the Cold War era when intercepts had a distinctly more ominous message. The U.K. based news writer Lizzie Dearden wrote, “Around 780 deployments were made from European military bases last year in response to Russian aircraft, compared to just 410 in 2015.” This does not a string of intercepts in other regions that include a sensational set of four intercepts in a row by USAF F-22 Raptors of Russian maritime patrol aircraft off the Alaskan coast recently.

A Russian Su-27 Flanker intercepts a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, 28th Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

While popular news media often adds a sensational spin to the intercepts suggesting some version of political brinkmanship a more relevant interpretation is that the air forces involved are conducting the intercepts for training and air traffic safety reasons. Some NATO aircraft including RAF Typhoons have escorted Russian aircraft that flew in moderate proximity to commonly used civilian air routes without common air traffic control transponders. When NATO aircraft rendezvous with the Russian aircraft they use their transponders to mark the location of the Russian aircraft as they transit the airspace.

Regardless of the motives the encounters often make for sensational photos and video.

A Russian Su-27 Flanker peels away from a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, 28th Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

Salva

  • What are the typical intercept patterns? An Esquire piece suggests that intercepts are almost always two fighters. This intercept of one fighter suggests weakness, according to that Esquire piece.

    • cencio4

      Usually two aircraft are involved in a QRA shift. However, in case one aircraft aborts, the other one continues the mission. Moreover, there might be cases when an aircraft flying nearby is diverted to investigate an unidentified traffic. It might suggest weakness, but we can’t be sure about it.

    • Pacemaker4

      a magazine that sells mens perfume… that esquire? can you tell me the author… nothing coming up when i search the site.

  • how where those photos taken?

    • cencio4

      From the boom position of a KC-135 tanker.

  • Bad Day

    The Russians scramble a single aircraft normally.

  • Pacemaker4

    seeing a Russian plane over the baltic is not much to be concerned. between Kaliningrad and st pete’s

  • leroy

    B-1 is faster than Su-27. If the Sukhoi spends too much time flying over Mach 2 its engine comes apart. Those twin Saturns are junk!

    • Arthur Vallejo

      B-1 top speed is Mach 1.2. Compromises were made to sacrifice lower top speed for a lower RCS. Su-27 made no such compromises consequently while it can go mach 2.5 in burner it lights up on x-band from over 100 nm away.

      • leroy

        No, the Bone can break Mach 2.

      • leroy

        Oh Arthur, you’re talking the “B” and not the “A”. You’re right about the “B”.

    • Pepe Le Cox

      You’re really a delusional guy! it’s time grow up!

      They are using the improved variant of the AL-31F M1 engine

      AL-31F M1, Improved version for the Russian Air Force, kN (30,300 lbf) for Su-27SM, Su-30, Su-34 In service/production

      B-1B
      Performance
      Maximum speed:
      At altitude: Mach 1.25 (721 kn or 830 mph or 1,335 km/h) at 50,000 ft (15,000 m) altitude
      At low level: Mach 0.92 (700 mph or 1,100 km/h) at 200–500 ft (60–150 m) altitude

      Su-27S
      Performance
      Maximum speed:
      At altitude: Mach 2.35 (2,500 km/h, 1,550 mph)
      At sea level: 1,400 km/h, 870 mph[102]

      • leroy

        I was referring to the “A”. I stand corrected.

    • Holztransistor

      The B-1B is only faster at sea level. At 10k meters the Su-27 is a lot faster.

    • Ethan Mclean

      “I was referring to the ‘A’. I stand corrected.” LOL, cool fail, Leroy. B1-A was never in production, way to juggle “alternate facts” :DD Yet again, you (or should I say you guys?) fail to produce any tangible argument :DDD

  • leroy

    Wrong! B-1’s top speed is classified (for you). Don’t depend on Wiki for all of your aircraft knowledge!