Russia MOD Says A Su-27 Intercepted An Italian Atlantic MPA Over The Black Sea. But The Italians Retired The Type in 2017.

File photo of a Su-27 Flanker (photographed by a RAF Typhoon). (Image credit: RAF/Crown Copyright).

According to the Russian MOD, the Flanker intercepted an Italian aircraft that was approaching Russia’s state border last Sunday. But the Su-27 must have misidentified the roundel…

According to a spokesman for Russia’s National Defense Management Center, a Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) was scrambled to identify and escort an Italian Atlantic that was approaching Russia’s state border on Aug. 14, 2020.

“A Su-27 fighter plane from the Southern Military District’s air defense quick reaction alert forces was scrambled to identify the target. The Russian fighter’s crew consistently approached the aerial object at a safe distance and identified it as an Italian Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft. After the Italian plane moved away from Russia’s state border, the Russian fighter safely returned to its home airfield” the Center said according to the TASS News Agency.

Even before the Italian Ministry of Defense denied any Italian aircraft was operating in the area, the whole story sounded at least weird: in fact, while it has operated the BR-1150 Atlantic MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) with ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) capabilities for some 45 years, logging 260,000 flight hours with a fleet of 18 aircraft, the Italian Air Force has retired the type once and for all in November 2017.

Here’s what we wrote about the BR-1150 when the Italian Air Force bid farewell to the type:

Throughout its career, the Atlantic flown by mixed Air Force/Navy crew of 13 people in missions lasting up to 12 hours (actually the record of the Italian BR-1150 is 19 hours and 20 minutes!), carried out thousand Maritime Patrol, ASW and ASuW (Anti-Surface Warfare – limited to the reconnaissance and surveillance part since the aircraft was not equipped with ASuW weapons) sorties as well as Maritime SAR (Search And Rescue) operations taking part also in hundreds exercises: from Dawn Patrol back in 1973 to the recent Dynamic Manta, the BR-1150 have played a role in the Display Determination, Dog Fish, Vento Caldo, Daily Double, Mare Aperto, Tridente, Deterrent Force, Passex, Storm Two, Fleetex, Sharp Guard, Destined Glory, Tapoon and many more ones. The aircraft has flown to the North Pole in 1997, landed at all the major European airports, including Iceland, and reached India, Morocco, Canada, Egypt, Lebanon, UAE and the U.S.

Two units operated the type within the Italian Air Force (each being assigned 9 aircraft): the 41° Stormo (Wing), with its 88° Gruppo (Squadron) at Sigonella, and the 30° Stormo with its 86° Gruppo at Cagliari Elmas. The latter was disbanded on Aug. 1, 2002 with all the Breguet Atlantic aircraft (“P-1150A” in accordance with the current Italian Ministry of Defense Mission Design Series) taken on charge by the 41th Wing.

Although to a far lesser extent than the French Atlantique 2 (ATL2), that have been upgraded to extend their operative life beyond 2030 adding further capabilities, the Italian Atlantic fleet has undertaken a limited operational update between 1987 and 1997, as part of the ALCO (Aggiornamento Limitato Componente Operativa) programme, that has included, among the others and in different times, new INS (Intertial Navigation System), IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, along with new Iguane radar and ESM (Electronic Support Measures) sensors to perform electronic reconnaissance/surveillance systems as well as AIS (Automatic Identification System).

While the Italian Atlantics have been retired to be (partially) replaced by the P-72, a multirole Maritime Patrol, Electronic Surveillance and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) aircraft that lacks an ASW (Anti-Sub Warfare) capability, the French Navy still operates a fleet of Breguet Atlantique 2 (ATL2), one of those was in the region to take part in the Romanian Navy Day celebrations over the Black Sea on Aug. 15, 2020.

The Russian pilot must have confused the Marine Nationale roundel with the one used by the Italian Air Force, not noticing that the color of the innermost circle, instead of green, was blue, and that there was also an anchor.

The French Navy (left) and Italian (right) roundels.

The French Atlantique 2 (ATL2) fleet is being upgraded to the “standard 6” configuration to improve the MPA’s capability to support the Strategic Oceanic Force, to deal with modern threats (future nuclear or conventional submarines, naval forces at sea, etc.) and to support air-land missions, until 2030.

The “Standard 6” upgrade work includes:

  • A new radar: The Thales Search Master with active antenna,
  • A new acoustic subsystem by Thales: It gathers and processes signals from the latest-generation of sonobuoys for submarine detection,
  • A new navigation console designed by Dassault Aviation,
  • New consoles for the tactical display subsystem, developed by SIAé

Romanian Navy Days celebration aside, the French Navy ATL2 have already operated in the Black Sea region in the past, as happened in July 2019:

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.