Category Archives: Rogue States

Two U.S. F-22 Raptor Jets Escorted Two Russian Tu-95MS Strategic Bombers Off Alaska

A routine close encounter between Russian bombers and American stealth interceptors in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

On Sept. 1, two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers involved in “scheduled flights over the waters of the Arctic Ocean, the Bering and Okhotsk seas” and supported by at least one Il-78 Midas tanker were, at some stages, accompanied by U.S. Air Force F-22 fighters, Russian Defense Ministry told to journalists on Friday according to TASS news agency.

The two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were scrambled from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska to intercept and visually identify the two Bear bombers flying off Alaska, south of the Aleutian Islands and inside the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).

According to NORAD (that used a standard phrase to describe the episode), the Russians were “intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west,” and, as usual, remained in international airspace.

The ADIZ, is a special zone, that can extend well beyond a country’s territory where aircraft without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.

Alaska ADIZ detail

Such close encounters are quite frequent and may also involve fighters, as happened in 2017, when the Bears were escorted by two Su-35S Flanker-E jets, and an A-50 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft. Anyway, this is the second time that Russian Bears pay a visit to the Alaskan ADIZ: on May 12, 2018, two F-22s were launched to perform a VID and escort two Tu-95 on a similar mission in the Northern Pacific.

It’s worth noticing that Raptors in peacetime QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) *usually* fly with external fuel tanks and Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors (clearly visible in the top image): this means that they are (consciously) visible to radars, exactly as any other QRA aircraft.

Top image: file photo an F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska takes off at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Aug. 3, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Yasuo Osakabe)

42 Years Ago Today: The Daring Defection of The Secret Soviet Super Fighter

The West Thought the MiG-25 Was a Deadly, Agile Superfighter. What They Learned Was Surprising.

1430 Hrs. Local, September 6, 1976. Sea of Japan near Hakodate Airport, Hokkaido Prefecture.

Jet fuel burned faster than he calculated as he pressed lower under the overcast, down to the gray black waves only 150-feet above the Sea of Japan. He hauled the heavy control stick left, then corrected back right in a skidding bank around a fishing vessel that came out of the misty nowhere in the low afternoon cloud cover. White vapor spiraled long “S”s from his angular wingtips in the violent turn nearly touching the wave tops.

That was the second fishing boat he had to bank hard to miss at nearly wave-top level. Rain squalls started. The huge Tumansky R-15 jet engines gulped more gas by the minute. This plane was not made to fly low and subsonic. It was built to fly supersonic in the high altitude hunt for the now-extinct American B-70 Mach 3 super-bomber that was never put into service.

He had to find the Japanese Self-Defense Force F-4 Phantoms that were no doubt in the air to intercept him. If they didn’t shoot him down first, they would lead him to Chitose Air Base where he may be able to land safely. If his fuel held out. But the Japanese Phantoms were nowhere to be found.

So, he hauled the stick back into his lap and the big, boxy Foxbat clawed through the clouds in its last, angry climb before succumbing to a fuel-starved death.

Eventually, he found an airport. Hokodate Airport. A 6,000 foot runway. Not long enough for his MiG-25 though. He’d make it work. On final approach to Hokodate he nearly collided head-on with a 727 airliner. It was better than ditching where he’d lose his biggest bargaining chip. His top secret airplane. He managed a rough landing, running off the end of the runway, climbing out of jet, and firing his pistol in the air when curious Japanese began snapping photos of the incident from a roadway.

It was, as I recall, the biggest thing that had ever happened in my life. I was 15 years old then.

We raced to the hobby shop on our bicycles to consult with the older men who owned the store. What would this mean? Was it real? Would there be a model of the MiG-25 released soon? We poured over the grainy newspaper photos, the best we had ever seen, again and again. We could not believe it, but it was real. The most exotic, highest flying, fastest, most secretive fighter plane on earth had just fallen into American hands. We got our first look at the mysterious MiG-25 Foxbat.

Flight Lieutenant Viktor Ivanovich Belenko, an elite MiG-25P pilot of the Soviet Air Defense Forces, had defected with the most secret operational combat aircraft of the era.

U.S. analysts initially the believed the MiG-25 was a highly maneuverable air superiority fighter with sophisticated lightweight jet engines. The reality was the MiG-25 had massive, heavy engines and was made of mostly simple materials using vacuum tube technology (Photo: The Koku Fan)

What happened in the aftermath of his defection 42 years ago influenced aircraft design, dispelled myths about the Soviet Union, angered one nation and offered relief to another while leaving a third in an awkward diplomatic bind. It was one more minor tear in the tapestry of the Iron Curtain as it slowly unraveled around the edges, like a loose thread that continues to pull out longer and longer.

“What did they think and [what do we] think now? Traitor! Military pilots consider it a huge disgrace for the Air Force of the USSR and Russia.” That is what the administrator of the most active social media fan page for the Russian Aerospace Forces told TheAviationist.com when we asked them what Russians think of Viktor Belenko today. While the Iron Curtain has come down, the hardened attitudes about Belenko betraying the state remain. The Russians still hate Viktor Belenko for stealing their most prized combat aircraft at the time.

In the U.S., “secret” units have been operating Russian MiGs and Sukhois quietly over the American west for years. But Belenko’s defection in 1976 with a Foxbat, the NATO codename for the MiG-25 (the Russians don’t call it that), was an intelligence coup that not only provided technical data and benchmark insights for decades to come, it also provided a core-sample of Communist life in the Soviet Union.

According to Belenko, things were bad in the Soviet Union. In the 1980 chronicle of Belenko’s defection, “MiG Pilot: The Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko”, author John Baron wrote of rampant alcoholism within the ranks of the Soviet air force. Living facilities at bases in the eastern Soviet Union were poor since some of the bases the MiG-25 operated from had not yet been upgraded to accommodate the larger ground crews needed to maintain the aircraft. Food quality for enlisted maintenance crews was so bad the men refused to eat. While food for officer/pilots like Belenko was much better, when Belenko reached the United States after his defection he mistakenly ate a can of cat food and later remarked that, “It was delicious. Better than canned food in the Soviet Union today!”

But Belenko entered a netherworld when he defected from Russia. While U.S. President Gerald Ford granted Belenko asylum in the U.S. and the Central Intelligence Agency gave him a stipend and built a life for him as a pilot and consultant in the U.S., neither side could fully trust the turncoat. When Belenko arrived in Japan he was given the book by Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch”. Despite his oath of military service to the Soviet Union, Belenko feared and was repulsed by the deep social injustice of Communist Soviet Russia. He had seen people inside the Soviet Union suffering like Denisovitch from poverty, hunger and oppression. Belenko wanted out. And so, he stole his Foxbat, flew it to Japan and never looked back.

In a footnote to Belenko’s defection with the MiG-25P Foxbat, I did get my scale model airplane kit shortly thereafter. The Japanese hobby brand Hasegawa had sent photographers to Hokodate Airport to photograph the MiG-25 before it was concealed, examined by the U.S. and Japan, and shipped back to the Soviet Union in pieces. Within months of the MiG-25 landing in Japan, Hasegawa released a 1/72nd scale plastic model kit of the MiG-25 complete with decals for Viktor Belenko’s aircraft. It sold for $10 U.S.

Japanese hobby brand Hasegawa obtained photos of the MiG-25 at Hokodate Airport before it was covered and quickly produced an accurate 1/72nd scale plastic of the aircraft. (Photo: The Squadron Shop)

Viktor Belenko continues to live in the United States according to most sources. He was photographed in a bar in 2000 where he was recognized, photographed and spoke openly to people about his experience defecting from the former Soviet Union. In 1995, he had returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and safely returned to the U.S. afterward. Belenko told an interviewer he had enjoyed going on fishing trips in the U.S. with test pilot and fighter ace General Chuck Yeager.

Viktor Belenko adapted well to life in the U.S., flying for the U.S. military and enjoying U.S. culture. He even got married in the United States. (Photo: SeanMunger.com)

There have been other famous defections by military pilots, including a shadowy attempted but apparently failed defection with a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” heavy bomber. Author Tom Clancy rose to prominence on his breakout fictional novel “The Hunt for Red October” about a Russian captain defecting with a Soviet nuclear powered missile submarine. One of his fictional characters in the book even refers to the Belenko defection saying, “This isn’t some pilot defecting with a MiG!”. But fictional accounts aside, now that the Iron Curtain has long since come down it is unlikely we will ever see a defection from any country like Viktor Belenko’s.

Top image: Photos of the then-secret MiG-25 Foxbat were taken from a nearby road before it could be covered. (Photo: Reuters/Wikipedia)

Here’s An Interesting Video Showing Some Of The Russian Aircraft Deployed To Syria For the Major Naval Exercise In the Med Sea

Tu-142, Su-30SM, Il-78 and Il-20 are taking part in the large-scale drills in the Mediterranean Sea.

An interesting video released by Zvezda shows most of the aircraft taking part in the drills in the Mediterranean sea the Russian Ministry of Defense announced last week in a move Moscow said was justified by a failure to deal with rebels opposed to Syrian President Assad in Idlib and surrounding areas in Syria.

As a Russian-backed offensive on Idlib looms, the Russians have amassed a naval armada in the eastern Mediterranean Sea made of 26 warships (including 2 subs) and 34 aircraft. The air contingent involved in the drills include the Russian Air Force Tu-160 strategic bombers, the Russian Navy Tu-142 Bear-F long-range maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft (two of those were reportedly deployed to Syria a few days ago) and various Flanker variants, including the Su-30SM.

The clip shows some armed Russian Navy Su-30SM taking off from Khmeimim Air Base along with Il-78 Midas and an Il-20 Coot spyplane. Then the Flanker-derivative 4++ Gen aircraft can be seen escorting a Tu-142M “Bear F”, a reconnaissance and ASW variant derived from the iconic Tu-95 Bear bomber, with the characteristic tail with a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) boom.

You can count seven Su-30SMs and four Il-78 on the ground at the beginning of the video.

Noteworthy, the footage also shows the Su-30SMs refuel from the Il-78 tankers: according to the Sputnik media outlets, Su-30 pilots of the Russian Navy’s fleet air have only recently practiced air-to-air refueling for the first time. That’s why you won’t find many videos online showing the type during AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations, including from inside the cockpit.

Russian Navy Beriev Be-12 Amphibian Aircraft Intercepted By RAF Typhoons Over The Black Sea

The British Typhoons have made an interesting close encounter yesterday: a quite rare Be-12 Chaika.

On Aug. 25, two Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon jets in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) at the Romanian Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base were scrambled to carry out VID (Visual Identification) on two Russian aircraft flying over the Black Sea in what was the third time the RAF jets have been scrambled to intercept Russian aircraft last week.

The first was a quite “standard” AN-26 tactical transportation aircraft, a type of aircraft NATO jets providing enhanced air policing in northern or eastern Europe have often intercepted, whereas the second was a rarer and much interesting Be-12 Chaika (NATO reporting name: Mail) short-range ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) and maritime SAR (Search And Rescue) amphibian.

In describing the “incursions”, Flight Lieutenant Ben, a Typhoon pilot on 1 (Fighter) Squadron, attached to 135 Expeditionary Air Wing, said in a public release:

“We launched both QRA aircraft to counter an incursion into the Romanian airspace from the East over the Black Sea by a suspected Russian aircraft. We were able to intercept and identify it as a Russian An-26 CURL and escorted it clear of the Romanian airspace. The first response was immediately followed by another suspected Russian aircraft over the Black Sea. Both Typhoons escorted it clear of Romanian airspace, the whole event was conducted safely and professionally on both sides.”

Noteworthy, unlike most of the recent interceptions, the latest ones by the RAF “Tiffies” were not conducted in international airspace, but based on the official RAF statements inside a NATO (Romania’s) airspace. Most probably, the statement referred to the Romanian FIR (Flight Information Region), rather than the Romanian sovereign airspace.

Anyway, four RAF Typhoons are deployed to Romania as part of Operation Biloxi, NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission to bolster the alliance’s eastern airspace. The British interceptors have been quite busy intercepting Russian aircraft lately. For comparison, during last year’s deployment, the RAF jets were scrambled only once, for someone a sign the Russians are testing RAF response in the area.

The Be-12 “76” intercepted by the RAF Typhoons on Aug. 25. Image credit: Crown Copyright.

The Be-12 was almost certainly operating out of the Crimean air base of Kacha, where most of the remaining Russian high-wing amphibian aircraft are based: according to most sources no more than 6 examples were in active service at the end of 2015. In his “Russia’s Warplanes: Volume 2”, Piotr Butowski reported that in Feb. 2015, unexpectedly, the commander of the Russian Naval Aviation declared that the Beriev fleet would be modernised even though the scope of the upgrades had not been specified yet. According to Butowski, about a dozen aircraft were suitable to return to service.

The Be-12 “76” intercepted by the RAF Typhoons on Aug. 25. Image credit: Crown Copyright.

In January 2018, TASS News Agency reported that the decision to modernize the aircraft had finally obtained a go-ahead, with the technical specifications drafted as well as the document to launch the R&D works to upgrade the onboard systems: mainly, ASW sensors, radio communication equipment and armament (torpedoes and depth bombs). How many aircraft will be upgraded and when, it’s not clear.

In the meanwhile, the Soviet-era aircraft with the peculiar V-shaped arched wing (to keep the propellers clear of the water), H-type tail unit and the glazed nose remains one of the rarest and coolest Russian Navy aircraft. The “Mail” amphibious aircraft has a maximum speed of 530 km/h, a maximum range of 3,600 km and a patrol endurance at 500 km from base of 3 hours.

Top image: File Photo of a Be-12. Credit: Dmitriy Pichugin/Wiki

 

 

Questions Remain Surrounding Special Operations Blackhawk Crash in Iraq

Veteran Helicopter Pilot Killed in Crash Was in Ninth Combat Deployment.

Late Tuesday, August 21, 2018, U.S. military officials identified the Army helicopter pilot who died on Monday as a result of wounds received in a crash in Iraq on Sunday, August 19, 2018 during an undisclosed operation. Official news releases report three additional wounded U.S. personnel have been evacuated to treatment facilities.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, from Spokane, Washington, died Aug. 20, in Baghdad as a result of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed in Sinjar, Ninevah Province, according to a Department of Defense news release.

CW3 Galvin was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) as an MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He was flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Galvin was originally from Phoenix, Arizona. He was 34 years old. Galvin was a combat veteran special operations pilot with nine deployments including two during Iraqi Freedom, three in Operation Enduring Freedom and four more during Operation Inherent Resolve. He was the recipient of the U.S. Army Air Medal (C device) and Air Medal (30LC) for heroism or meritorious achievement while flying in addition to numerous other awards.

A file photo of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, of Spokane, Washington. Galvin died Monday from injuries received in the crash of his MH-60K Blackhawk special operations helicopter. (Photo: US Army)

In an August 20, 2018 article on Newsweek.com about the fatal crash, journalist James LaPorta reported that, “It is unclear why the MH-60 Blackhawk went down, but U.S. military sources with knowledge of the crash said the helicopter was returning to base after conducting a partnered small-scale raid on Islamic State militants in an undisclosed region as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations.” LaPorta went on to write, “Ten U.S. military personnel were onboard the aircraft being flown by U.S. Army pilots from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.”

The region near Sinjar (Shingal), Iraq where the crash occurred had been active in supporting cross-border anti-ISIS operations into neighboring Syria for more than a month until U.S. troops were withdrawn from the area in the middle of July, 2018 according to a report by Wladimir van Wilgenburg published in the regional Kurdistan 24 online news source. This is also the region where Iraqi Air Force F-16s have conducted their first airstrikes against insurgents during cross-border strikes into Syria.

The crash was reported to have occurred at approximately 10:00 PM local time (2200 hrs, GMT+3). Sunset in the region on August 19, the date of the accident, occurred at 6:40 PM local time. Weather in the area was hot, 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds and clear skies. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters Monday that the crash was not caused by enemy fire.

Reports about the aircraft and the personnel on board may contradict official assertions that the U.S. role in the region is predominantly in an advisory capacity. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, is a highly-specialized combat aviation unit headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky that supports elite U.S. and coalition combat units like Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and other special operations units.

This latest crash brings the total of serious U.S. military aircraft accidents this year to at least 14.

The 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers”, are most famous for the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune’s Spear, on May 1, 2011. During that raid, the unit flew a classified, low-observable variant of the Blackhawk helicopter that has since been popularly referred to in speculation as the “MH-X Stealth Black Hawk” or “Silent Hawk”. Images of part of the secret helicopter were seen around the world when one of them crashed inside Bin Laden’s compound during the raid, leaving the tail section visible. Books and media accounts suggest only two of the aircraft were ever produced.

In 2015, a MH-60M Black Hawk crashed on the deck of a U.S. Navy ship near Okinawa, Japan, injuring seven; more recently, in August 2017, a 160th SOAR’s MH-60 crashed off Yemen killing one soldier.

Top image credit: U.S. Army