The exercise in the Central Military District involved 12 Su-34s, 2 An-26s and at least 3 Mi-8s
On Aug. 28, 2019, the Russian Ministry of Defense published a video showing Su-34s bombers operating from a highway strip during a material and technical support exercise (MTO) of the Russian Federation Armed Forces in the Central Military District.
During the exercise 12 Su-34 Fullback bombers and two An-26 Curl cargo aircraft landed on the highway strip, where the entire airfield support infrastructure was deployed along with at least three Mi-8 helicopters. An aerial view provided by a drone shows the strip equipped with full runway markings and support equipment. Two ramps can be seen, one at each end of the strip, where aircraft can be parked. The first ramp, near the control tower, can host at least 12 fighter jets, although only seven were present at the time the video was recorded. The second ramp, on the opposite end of the strip, hosted the An-26s.
The aircraft on the ground were refueled by both fuel tankers and a new centralized refueling system. According to the MoD, “the new automated centralized fueling system includes six filling units, a containerized pump module and a group of tanks with a capacity of 400 cubic meters and each filling unit can provide more than 500 liters of fuel per minute, which allows to refuel six aircraft simultaneously in less than 10 minutes. Also, the new ATZ-20 tanker was tested for the first time, allowing it to refuel the aircraft in less than five minutes, with a throughput of 1200 liters of fuel per minute.”
The new Europe-Western China highway under construction in Tatarstan was designed with provisions for a special section capable of supporting flying operations of military aircraft if needed, as done for many highways during the Cold War. The highway strips were meant to disperse assets during a potential war so the Air Force could continue to fly even if the airports were destroyed. As our Editor David Cenciotti wrote in a past article:
After WWII and through the Cold War some countries (especially in eastern Europe) developed the concept of highway strips: a section of a highway, motorway or other form of public road used as a runway to get rid of one of the basic drawbacks of combat planes – runway dependency. In fact, airstrips and their coordinates were not secret, neither in the West nor in Soviet Russia and they would be destroyed or at least targeted at the beginning of any conventional or nuclear conflict.
Highway operations were part of the standard training conducted mainly in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe during the Cold War until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact made highway take-offs and landings less frequent. Actually highway operations have been carried out in Asia too, for instance in Singapore and North Korea.
Interestingly, at the very beginning of the video, the Kasta 2E2 surveillance radar is showed deployed to the highway strip. The radar, reportedly delivered last year to the Central Military District’s air defense division, is advertised as able to track aircraft and cruise missiles flying at low and extremely low altitudes and also stealth aircraft up to 55 km in the standard configuration and 150 km if mounted on a 50 m antenna.