The U.S. strategic bombers, tracking online, have flown inside Ukrainian airspace and operated quite close to the border with Crimea.
One week after taking part in the one-day Allied Sky mission that saw 6 B-52s flying over the capitals of the 30 NATO countries, the BUFFs of the 5th Bomb Wing, from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and deployed to RAF Fairford as part of BTF (Bomber Task Force) 20-4, have carried out another pretty interesting mission.
Launching from the UK shortly before 07.30LT on Sept. 4, 2020, three B-52s, #61-0034, #60-0005 and #60-0044, callsigns “JULIA 51-52-53”, flew all the way to Ukraine.
Two of the three bombers had their Mode-S transponder turned on, allowing them to be tracked during their trip toward the Black Sea region. Interestingly, the aircraft flew towards the Sea of Azov, then orbited for some minutes before heading north towards Kiev.
USAF B52´s now circling near the Sea of Azov pic.twitter.com/GHB1lwfF2Q
— Manu Gómez (@GDarkconrad) September 4, 2020
Although some sources reported that this was the first time U.S. strategic bombers entered the Ukrainian airspace, this is not true: on Sept. 26, 1994, a B-52, B-1 and KC-10 landed at Poltava AB,, marking first time American bombers had landed there since WWII.
Anyway, the mission appears to be yet another clear signal sent to Russia, amid worsening US–Russian relations, and reinforces the message that the Black Sea is considered strategic to the U.S. and NATO, as shown by the recent missions flown to the region by B-1s (training on LRASM attack profiles) and F-16s (flying JASSM cruise missile tactics training).
In particular, the Sea of Azov, a shallow sea bordered by Ukraine and Russia and divided from the Black Sea by the narrow Kerch Strait is a region where tension between Moscow and Kiev remains high. Tensions have risen since Russia annexed Crimea and built a bridge across the Kerch Strait. Since then, Russia controls ships entering the Azov Sea, on the grounds that it tries to prevent a terrorist attack. In March 2018, Ukraine’s border guards detained a Russian fishing boat. Russia accused Ukraine or ‘state piracy’ and last week, Russia detained two Ukrainian fishermen accused of poaching, the Russian State-sponsored reported.
Someone has also noted that the flight path flown today the could reflect a (nuclear) strike mission profile against targets in Russia using the AGM-86B Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM).
It is also possible the first approach (purple) is pointing toward Sochi 🇷🇺, which is where Putin has a large dacha. This is well within the known ranges of ALCMs like the AGM-86B (☢) or LRSO that a B-52 could carry.
I doubt these angles are by accident. pic.twitter.com/ncqdnfVdZy
— Evergreen Intel (@vcdgf555) September 4, 2020
Whatever, there are plenty of targets the U.S. bombers could attack from there with their stand-off weapons. Moreover, the fact that they were tracking online during their route also shows that they wanted to be seen, because, as explained, the B-52s not always have their transponders turned on during journeys across Europe and the rest of the world.
Anyway, the mission was closely monitored by several ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) assets flying in the Black Sea area, including RAF RC-135W Airseeker, Sentinel R1 and USAF Rivet Joint. They were probably recording the reactions of the Russian air defenses to the presence of the B-52s in the area.
Last week, the B-52 flying over the Black Sea was intercepted by two Russian Su-27 Flankers. The Pentagon called the interception of its B-52H “unprofessional and unsafe” and published a video showing the Russian combat aircraft aggressively maneuvering close to the bomber flying in international airspace. On the very same day, a Russian Su-27 dispatched to intercept one of the B-52s taking part in Allied Sky mission over the Baltic, violated the Danish airspace.
While no Su-27s were probably scrambled this time, as the B-52s flew inside the Ukrainian airspace (not far from the Russian one over Crimea), it’s quite likely the mission (carried out on the very same day the North Atlantic Council is discussingwill surely not go unnoticed.