Category Archives: Russia

Russia’s New Tu-214ON Open Skies Surveillance Aircraft Tracked Online During Flights Over Taganrog Region

The new Tu-214ON has carried out a series of test flights in southwest Russia, close to the border with Ukraine.

Tupolev is continuing the testing of the new Tu-214ON (Otkrytoye Niebo – Open Skies), a highly modified Tu-214 airliner equipped with advanced photo and electronic sensors to peform Open Skies Treaty surveillance missions.

The Treaty on Open Skies entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002, and currently has 34 States Parties. The Treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants with the aim to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. The Russian Air Force Russia is phasing out the An-30 and Tu-154M-ON used for Open Skies missions and replacing them with two Tu-214ON with registrations RF-64519 (ex RA-64519) and RF-64525 (ex RA-64525).

The aircraft, that performed its maiden flight in June 2011, has recently completed the first stage of certification for the Open Skies task, with missions carried out between May 21 and 29, 2018 over the Kubinka airfield: during those sorties, Russian specialists and inspectors aboard the new aircraft (that is operated by a crew that includes four flight crew and five systems operators) conducted an aerial survey of the optical test facility at the airbase located to the west of Moscow, to evaluate the digital surveillance systems along with the ground processing components. According to Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 1 by Piotr Butowski, the Tu-214ON is fitted with the M402N Ronsar side-looking radar with synthetic aperture with a range of 50 km over land and 200 km over water with a definition of 3m over land and 6-8m over water; dual-band Raduga IR scanner; a photo camera suite that includes a panoramic, a verticla and two oblique cameras; and a TV camera suite (one vertical and two oblique cameras).

Update: OSINT analyst, Jane’s (JIR) contributor and IT Security consultant Steffan Watkins contacted me to inform me and explained that the aircraft is not fitted with the SAR and that it only carries the digital electro-optical sensor OSDCAM4060, the same as the An-30B and Tu-154M LK-1. This is an extremely interesting development, considered that almost all the sources in the Public Domain say that the new aircraft is equipped with the SAR.

On Jun. 7, 15 and 16, the aircraft RF-64525, was tracked online during test flights conducted over Taganrog airfield, in southwest Russia. Since the airport is located  not far from the border with Ukraine there were some speculations the new surveillance aircraft might be involved in some intelligence gathering mission. However, considered it will complete its certification for the Treaty on Open Skies in September, it is much more likely the aircraft was “simply” performing a test flight on the airport that is home to the Taganrog Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex and is filled with Beriev aircraft: a pretty realistic “target” (probably similar to many U.S. airbases) to calibrate/evaluate the onboard sensors. Indeed, the “racetracks” flown by the Tu-214ON are mostly aligned with the runway 05/23 at Taganrog.

Taganrog airport: note the number of aircraft parked on the aprons. (Image credit: GoogleMaps).

Here are some screenshots from Flightradar24.com taken by our friend and tracking authority @CivMilAir that show the routes followed by the Tu-214ON in the last few days.

Here’s the one for Jun. 7:

Jun. 7 mission over Taganrog.

Here’s the track on Jun. 15:

The track of the Tu-214ON on Jun. 15. (Screenshot from FR24.com via @CivMilAir)

The playback of flight RF-64525 is available here.

Top image credit: Oleg Belyakov/Wiki

Ukrainian Su-25 Frogfoot Jet Flies At Ultra-Low Altitude Over The Sea Of Azov

A Ukrainian attack jet almost “buzzed” bathers on a beach at a popular resort town in southeastern Ukraine amid growing tensions with Russia in the Sea of Azov.

Su-25 attack jets are particularly comfortable at very low altitudes and the Ukrainian Frogfoots often fly at low-level as part of their Close Air Support training.

Indeed, we have published many videos showing the Ukrainian Su-25s involved in treetop navigations and ultra-low level flyovers in the past. Here’s a clip reportedly filmed last Friday by vacationers at Kirillovka, a resort town on the Sea of Azov, in southeastern Ukraine, some 65 km from the border with Russia in Crimea in the southwest, and about 140 km southwest of the breakaway Donetsk region.

According to Sputnik News media outlet, the attack aircraft was involved in Ukrainian border guard drills in the Sea of Azov, a region of raising tensions with Moscow: in March, 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.

By the way, the short video proves the Su-25 is a really quiet jet aircraft, isn’t it?

Actually, low level flying is not only a Frogfoot jets prerogative. Take a look at the following episodes of the “Ukrainian low level activity saga” we have posted here at The Aviationist: a Ukrainian Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails; an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); here’s an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway and another fully armed Mig-29 Fulcrum in the livery of the Ukrainian Falcons aerobatic display team flying over an apron at an airbase in Ukraine; here’s a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; and here you can see a Su-27 performing a low pass after take off.

H/T Lasse Holmstrom for the heads-up!

Footage From Inside A Russian Tu-95 Bear Strategic Bomber As It Is Escorted by U.S. F-22 Raptors Off Alaska Last Week

The Russian Air Force has released a video that includes a short clip filmed from inside a Bear bomber escorted by two F-22 stealth aircraft.

On May 12, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to intercept and visually identify two Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers flying off Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands, in the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).

ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones 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

According to NORAD, 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.

Nothing special then, considered that these close encounters occur every now and then, as reported last year.

What’s a bit more interesting this time is the fact that the Russian Air Force has released some details and footage about the training activities conducted by its long range bombers. During the last round of “winter period” training, five long range missions were launched involving strategic missile carriers Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, as well as long-range Tu-22M3 bombers: these flights brought the Russian aircraft over the Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, Japan, East China, Black, Barents, Norwegian, Northern, Bering and Okhotsk Seas.

On May 12 mission off Alaska, the F-22s (that were filmed while shadowing the Bear, as the clip below shows) remained with the Tu-95s for 40 minutes.

“As for the last such flight, only one pair of US Air Force F-22 fighters have escorted our aircraft. Just one, it says that a certain effect of surprise has worked. Usually, during the execution of such flights, we are escorted to five or seven aircraft, while escorts are carried out by fighters of various states. I want to note that during this flight no one intercepted anyone. US Air Force planes accompanied our aircraft in the airspace over neutral waters. The pilots acted in the air correctly. No violations were recorded,” said commander of long-range aviation Lieutenant-General Sergei Kobylash in an article published by Zvezda.

While it’s somehow hard to believe that the large strategic bombers caught someone by surprise, the video is interesting, especially the short part where you can see a pair of F-22s from the window of a Russian Bear.

The Israeli Air Force Has Just Released A Video Of A Pantsir-S1 Air Defense System Being Struck In Last Night’s Attack In Syria

Last night the Israeli Air Force attacked dozens of Quds force targets in Syrian territory. This video shows what seems to be a Delilah cruise missile hitting a Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon system. Warning: graphic footage.

“On May 9, 2018, the Quds force, a special force wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, stationed in Syria, shot 20 rockets towards IDF posts in the Golan Heights. The IDF intercepted four of the rockets, preventing casualties and damage. This is the first time that Iranian forces have directly fired at Israeli troops.

In response, in the night on May 10, IDF fighter jets (mainly F-16I Sufa aircraft according to most sources even though the official IAF website’s release on the attack shows also a file photo of an F-15I) struck several military targets in Syria that belonged to Iran’s Quds force. “The IDF’s wide-scale attack included Iranian intelligence sites, the Quds force logistics headquarters, an Iranian military compound in Syria, observation and military posts, et cetera. In spite of a warning from Israel, Syrian aerial defense forces fired towards the IAF aircraft as they conducted the strikes. In response, the IAF targeted several aerial interception systems (SA5, SA2, SA22, SA17) which belong to the Syrian Armed Forces. All of the IDF’s fighter jets returned to their bases safely.”

An illustration showing the targets hit by the IAF on May 10. (image credit: IDF)

Among the targets hit by the Israeli combat planes there is also a Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 according to the NATO designation) as shown in the following footage.

The Pantsir-S1 is a Russian-built advanced, self-propelled combined gun/missile system that is made mobile on 8×8 trucks. The transportable gun/SAM system includes up to 12 surface-to-air missiles arranged into two 6-tube groups on the turret, and a pair of 30mm cannon.

The SA-22 was destroyed from what, based on the type of aircraft reportedly involved in the air strikes, the range of the missile and similar footage available online, seems to be a Delilah missile (actually, there is someone that suggested the missile might have been a Spike NLOS, but the use of a standoff missile seems much more likely).

The Delilah missile on an F-16I Sufa (image: Wiki)

The Delilah is a cruise missile developed in Israel by Israel Military Industries (IMI), built to target moving and re-locatable targets with a CEP of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) at a maximum range of 250 km.

The best description of the cruise missile comes from the IAF website:

In terms of its structure, the Delilah is almost identical to a typical air-to-ground missile. The front section includes the homing parts, which in the first models were televisional. Thus, the head of the missile includes an antenna for general guidance towards its target. The next section holds the various electronic parts including guidance systems and flight control. The part behind this holds the warhead and fuel supply. The final section is made up of a jet engine capable of producing 165 pounds of thrust and the control surfaces that turn the missile towards its target.

Examining the technical data alone raises the question of why the Delilah is considered such an important missile. After all, there are missiles capable of flying further and faster and carrying warheads many times larger which are available on the global weapons market. The answer lies in the fact that the Delilah is seen more as a “loitering missile” than a cruise missile.

In general typical air-to-ground missiles are launched in the general direction of their target. A navigational system (such as GPS) takes them to the spot where intelligence indicates that the target lies. If the missile is autonomous (“fire and forget”) then the plane that launched it can simply leave. The missile flies towards the target. When it identifies it, it strikes it with the help of its final guidance system. When the target is not where it is expected to be, the missile is simply written off. An example of this sort of weapon is the US Tomahawk missile, at least in its early models.

When a missile is fitted with an electro-optic guidance system, it broadcasts an image of what is in front of it, back to the aircraft that launched it.  The image from the homing device is shown on a special screen in the cockpit, usually facing the navigator’s chair in a two-seater aircraft. The navigator can send the missile instructions, and make small changes in its flight path. However, these changes can only take pace during a relatively short period of time, and are comparatively minor. From the moment that the missile begins its final approach, no changes can be made. The result is that although he has some control, the navigator is actually very limited. If a missile approaches a target, which at the last minute turns out to be moving, or the wrong target altogether, then the missile misses. Thus, there have been many events like the one in Yugoslavia in 1999 when an electro-optic bomb launched from a US combat airplane was launched at a bridge. Seconds before impact, a passenger train reached the bridge and all the navigator could do was watch in horror, knowing that many civilians would be killed. It is here that the Delilah’s unique ability enters the picture.

[…]

The Delilah’s operation is similar to what is described above; it, too, possesses a “Man in the Loop” mechanism, where the navigator controls the final direction of the missile. However, in the case of the Delilah there’s a key difference: as the missile makes the final approach, if the target has moved or if there’s a need to cancel the attack (for example, if civilians are spotted near the target), all the navigator needs to do is press a button in the cockpit which instructs the missile to abort its approach and return to linger. Thus, situations in which a missile is wasted on a target that has disappeared, or in which civilians are accidentally killed can be prevented. In the same way the use of a missile on a target that has already been destroyed can be prevented, saving valuable ammunition.

This is not the only value in the Delilah missile’s ability to linger. One can imagine a situation in which the target’s precise location is not known with any certainty, for example if it is a portable anti-aircraft launcher or land-land missile launcher. In this case the Delilah can be launched in the general direction of the target, based on intelligence reports. The missile would fly in the direction of the target, all the while surveying the territory with its homing equipment. The image appears in the cockpit, the Delilah serving effectively as a homing UAV. The Delilah patrols above the territory searching for its target.  The missile’s long range can be exchanged for a prolonged stay in the air above the target. When the navigator identifies the target, or what is thought to be the target, he instructs the missile to fly towards it. If he has identified it correctly then the missile is directed to attack it. If he has not found the target then the missile is instructed to abort its approach and return to searching.

The Delilah missile’s ability to both loiter and carry out repeated passes makes it the ideal weapon for attacking mobile sites like rocket launches. Everyone recalls the difficulty the US Air Force faced during the 1992 Gulf War when it attempted to locate and destroy the Iraqi “Al-Hussein” rocket launcher that was used to fire at Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Americans knew roughly where the rockets were being launched from but had difficulty locating the launchers themselves. As a result fighter planes were sent for long patrols over western Iraq every night. On many occasions the Americans identified the point where the missile was launched from, but by the time a counter-strike had been arranged the missile launcher had left the scene. It’s in these sorts of operational profile that the Delilah performs best, perhaps better than any other weapons system. In these cases the Delilah can be launched towards the area intelligence expects the missiles to be launched from. The Delilah will fly above the area and search for missile launchers. When a launcher is identified, it will be immediately struck by the missile. If it’s discovered that the target has not been identified correctly, for example if it’s a dummy launcher or another vehicle that looks like a launcher (such as a petrol tanker), the missile receives the instructions to end its approach and continue to search for the real target.

“The Delilah is a system that can strike very precisely at critical, sensitive points from a great distance”, explains Brigadier General (reserve) Arieh Mizrachi, who was once CEO of IMI.”If we want to attack a command bunker, for example, and we know where it is situated and exactly which window we need to hit then we can do it. We can always make another approach and place the missile exactly where we want it. The extreme precision of the missile makes it possible for us to paralyze the enemy by striking their critical point. For example, if we send the missile through a window of a division’s control center, then no one will be left to give orders, and we’ll have silenced the whole division. It’s important to understand that the target does not need to be a large command center. The ‘Delilah’ lets us strike at the brain of the enemy, even if it’s a small mobile target like a command armored personnel carrier. Similarly, we can strike at a ship’s command center without needing to sink the whole ship. This holds true for many other kinds of target like airports, logistics centers and so on. The moment we identify the critical point, the Delilah lets us hit it”.

[…]

“The training needed to operate the Delilah lasts a few months, and because of its complex capabilities, not everyone successfully completes it”, explains First Lieutenant A., an F-16D navigator in the “Scorpion” Squadron who is trained on the Delilah. “The training process is long, complex and challenging. You start with simple scenarios, hitting a large target in open space, and advance to small targets that are located in densely populated areas”.

“Despite the intense cooperation between the pilot and the navigator, the fact remains that the missile is operated from the navigator’s cockpit. In the first stage you launch the missile and it flies towards the target you’ve given it. Later in the flight, you take control of the missile and direct it wherever you want. If you need to, you can press a button and the missile will loiter. The role of the pilot is to tell me when I’ve reach the point where I need to tell the missile to fly, and I can no longer tell it to continue to loiter”.

“Even though you are not physically in the same place as the missile, and in fact are far away, the whole time you feel that you are part of it. The fact that you can fly the missile wherever you want, whilst you yourself fly to an area that is not under threat, gives you safety”.

Anyway, here’s the footage:

As said, the Delilah is a standoff weapon: it means the aircraft can use it while remaining at safe distance.

As a side note, according to our sources, a KC-707 tanker that supported the F-16I. Yesterday, more or less when the jets were attacking the targets in Syria, a KC-707 was operating in the southern part of Israel.

We can’t be sure the tanker was supporting the raid (the fact an Israeli aircraft could be tracked online during a combat mission is somehow surprising), still worth a mention.

Russia Shows New Hypersonic Missile on Two MiG-31 Aircraft in Victory Day Rehearsals.

New Photos Reveal Two MiG-31K “Foxhound” Flying Over Moscow Ahead of Parade.

Exciting photos emerged Friday on social media of the unique Russian Aerospace Forces long range interceptor, the MiG-31K (NATO codename “Foxhound”) carrying the new long range, hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” missile.

In a story on the Russian news agency TASS website it was reported that, “Upgraded MiG-31K fighter jets armed with the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system will take part in the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9.” Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu was reported as making the announcement on Thursday, May 3.

“Apart from advanced Su-57, Su-30SM and MiG-29SMT aircraft, upgraded MiG-31K fighters armed with the cutting-edge Kinzhal hypersonic missile systems will take part in the parade’s air component,” General Sergei Shoigu said.

Two MiG-31 Foxhounds were with Kinzhals were photographed over Moscow on Thursday. (Photo: ВКС России/Facebook)

The Kh-47M2 is a much-hyped long range missile claimed by Russia to be capable of speeds up to Mach 10 with a range of 1,200 miles (approximately 2,000 kilometers). The Russians further claim the weapon has maneuver capability even in part of the hypersonic performance envelope. While western analysts remain skeptical about the Kinzhal’s claimed capabilities, the missile has garnered significant attention in aviation media and intelligence communities.

The missile, is actually not a “hypersonic weapon” in the sense that it is an air-breathing cruise missile based on scramjet technology: it appears to be an adaptation of the Iskander missile and, as a ballistic missile, it flies at hypersonic speed with a reported cruise missile-like flat flight profile.

There was speculation about the MiG-31 in a modified variant called the MiG-31K being shown in flyovers with the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal during the sensational Victory Day Parade on Wednesday, May 9 beginning at 1000 Hrs. local Moscow time. Rehearsals for the parade confirm that two aircraft with Kinzhals may be seen in the flyover. Some reports earlier this year suggest that only six initial MiG-31s were modified to carry the Kinzhal.

The MiG-31 Foxhound is a bit of a plane-spotters’ prize itself since Russia is now the only user of the type and they are mostly deployed along the vast expanse of Russia’s eastern border. Their very high speed well in excess of Mach 2 and long range coupled with powerful intercept radar make them a highly capable (if not very stealthy) interceptor. The combination of the MiG-31K with the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal nuclear capable, hypersonic missile could give the aging MiG-31 Foxhound, formerly only an interceptor, a new attack capability.

Top image credit: Alex S vis RussianPlanes.net