An interesting video filmed from the aircrew of a Russian Navy Il-38 “Dolphin” (NATO reporting name “May”) ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft flying close to a U.S. carrier battle group in the Pacific.
Russian Naval Aviation Il-38s have been particularly active in the Pacific region lately: on Apr. 8, 2020, two “Dolphins” were escorted and monitored by USAF F-22s as they flew in international airspace over the Bering Sea north of Alaska’s remote Aleutian Islands; another Il-38 (most probably one of the two involved in the intercept inside the Alaskan ADIZ) were intercepted by the Japanese Air Self Defense Forces off Japan on Apr. 9.
As we have reported with plenty of details, the Russians issued a statement saying the Il-38 aircraft activities were part of a planned training exercise by Russian forces that began in the region on March 30. Russia’s state-sponsored TASS news outlet reported that, “Tu-142 and Il-38 anti-submarine warfare aircraft are operating from the aerodromes in the Primorye Region and Kamchatka.” The report went on to say that, “Russia’s Pacific Fleet kicked off a series of tactical drills in the distant maritime zone in the Far East involving over 20 naval aviation aircraft and helicopters.” The reports about the exercise were from official Russian fleet media releases.
A video, allegedly filmed from the cockpit of an Il-38 has recently been published online. It shows the Russian ASW aircraft, escorted by an F/A-18E Super Hornet, flying by a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The video says the flattop is USS George Washington (CVN 73). However, the latter entered the Dry Dock at the Newport News Shipbuilding in August 2017 for a 4-year Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). Moreover, the Super Hornet in the footage belongs to the VFA-27 “Royal Maces” (it’s actually the CAG bird) assigned to CVW-5 that completed the last deployment aboard CVN 73 in 2015.
Our reader Ryan W. Gilchrist highlighted that the video must have been from the 2013 USS George Washington Cruise because that was the only time Mace 200 BuNo 168363 flew with a black centerline tank on cruise with that paint scheme. There is a photo of it in their cruise book too.
That said the video shows a close and safe interaction between the Russian and the U.S. Navy: what makes the video interesting is the fact that we don’t happen to see such close flybys from inside a Russian ASW aircraft as it is escorted by a U.S. fighter. It’s pretty obvious that in peacetime conditions, foreign spyplanes, bombers, maritime patrol aircraft etc, approaching an aircraft carrier are detected at a significant distance (depending on their type, altitude etc) and then intercepted and escorted as they operate in international airspace close to flattop. As happened on Oct. 27, 2015, when USS Ronald Reagan, sailing in international waters east of the Korean peninsula, had to scramble four F/A-18 Hornets after two Russian Navy Tu-142 Bear aircraft flew within a nautical mile of the U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, or in 2008, when USS Nimitz operating in the Pacific had to launch some Hornets to intercept and escort two Russian Tu-95s approaching the carrier.
Back to the latest clip, it also shows an ROKAF F-15K Slam escorting the Russian ASW aircraft: a sign that the Il-78 also flew close to the South Korea’s airspace during its trip in the Asia-Pacific region.
H/T Lasse Holmstrom for the heads-up