Russian Air Force Il-22M11-RT “Sokol” Radio-Relay Aircraft Intercepted By RAF Typhoons Over The Baltic

The Il-22 and one of the escorting Su-27s. (Image credit: UK MOD/Crown Copyright).

A quite rare variant of the Il-22 Coot-B was intercepted by the Royal Air Force Typhoon jets supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing.

According to the UK Ministry of Defence, on May 14, 2019, two Typhoon jets supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing mission from Ämari Air Base, Estonia, were scrambled to intercept two Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter aircraft and one Ilyushin Il-22 (NATO reporting name Coot-B) aircraft that were flying (in international airspace) along the Baltic coast heading towards Kaliningrad.

On the following day, May 15, Typhoon FGR4s were launched again to intercept “another two Su-27 aircraft and an Il-22 and escorted the formation towards Russia” (the public statement seems to suggest different airframes were intercepted on the second day, suggesting a rotation of aircraft deployed to the Kaliningrad Oblast).

These are the first QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) scrambles since the RAF took over the mission from the German Air Force last month and they were pretty much routine. Still, they are worth of note because one the Russian aircraft intercepted by the Typhoons was a particular variant of the baseline Il-22 Bison (Coot-B) Airborne command post (VzKP): the Il-22M11-RT, an upgraded Il-22M11 Zebra equipped with the SURT (Samolotnyi Uzel Re-Translatsii, airborne relay hub) “Sokol” (“Falcon”) radio relay system. This variant can be recognized by two large L-shaped antenna on the upper side of the fuselage.

This kind of aircraft was rarely seen in the Baltic area, at least based on the images frequently released by NATO air forces supporting BAP mission from Lithuania and Estonia. The last time an Il-22M11-RT was intercepted was about 3 years ago:

Some 11 Il-22M11 (most of those upgraded to the -RT variant) are reportedly in service with the Russian Air Force. In August 2018, RIA Novosti reported that the Russian Air Force will receive five additional Il-22 converted to the Il-22M11 variant. Two planes had to be delivered by November 10, 2019, and three by November 10, 2021, according to the Russian State agency.

Wing Commander Paul ‘Pablo’ O’Grady, who was conducting QRA duty when the first scramble was called, said on the UK MoD webpage:

On 14 May 19 my flight of QRA Typhoons were scrambled on a Baltic Air Policing Mission tasked to intercept and identify an unknown aircraft. Six minutes after take-off from Ämari Air Base, vectored by Estonian fighter controllers, we closed quickly on a Russian IL-22 which was being escorted by two Russian SU-27 fighters.

Flying alongside the Russian aircraft at a safe distance, myself and my wingman (a United States Airforce Lt Col), ensured that the Russian aircraft were safely escorted around Estonian airspace. The Russian pilots and crews behaved in a professional and calm manner with nothing untoward. We subsequently handed the Russian formation over to the Hungarian QRA that had launched out of Lithuania to continue the escort towards Kaliningrad.

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.