Three U.S. B-52s Fly Mission Over Ukraine’s Sea of Azov Coast In A Clear Show Of Force Toward Russia

The track of B-52 near the Sea of Azov. (Image via Airnav Radarbox).

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.

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, Ukraine, 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 USRussian 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).

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.

The “picture” of the ISR assets flying over the Black Sea as the three bombers operated northeast of Crimea. (Image credit: Planeradar.ru)

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 discussing the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with Novichok) will surely not go unnoticed.

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About David Cenciotti 4198 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance 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 four books.