Tag Archives: Tu-95 Bear

“We Did Barrel Rolls Around Tu-95s At The Request Of The Soviets”: F-4 WSO Explains The Story Of The Phantom Upside Down Near Bear

Here are some memories from the Weapon Systems Officer who shot the famous photograph of the F-4 flying inverted near a Soviet Tu-95 Bear bomber.

Last week we have published a blurry shot of a U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom flying inverted during an intercept mission on a Russian Tu-95 Bear. The photograph went viral and reached Robert M. Sihler, the author of the shot, who was so kind to provide some interesting details about the image that brought to mind one of the most famous scenes in Top Gun movie.

“Although I don’t remember the exact date, the mission occurred in either late 1973 or early 1974.  The F-4C belonged to the 57th FIS at Keflavik NAS.  The mission was a standard intercept of a “Bear” by two F-4s after the alert crews were activated,” Bob wrote in an email to The Aviationist.

In June 1973 the F-4s replaced the F-102s at Keflavik. (All images: R. Sihler)

“I was a Navigator, or in the F-4, a Weapons System Officer. I entered the USAF in Oct 1969. On active duty, I spent a couple of years at Norton AFB, CA in C-141s. From there, I trained in the F-4 and spent one year at Keflavik, Iceland. Following that, I went back to C-141s at Charleston AFB, SC from 1974 to 1977. I left active duty and spent the next 14 years in C-130s at Andrews AFB, MD and Martinsburg ANGB, WV. I retired as a Lt Col in Dec 1991. The assignments to Iceland were generally either one or two years. I elected to do one year without my family accompanying me there. Others chose to bring their families for two years.”

Dealing with the close encounters with the Tu-95s:

“At that time, we probably averaged two intercepts of “Bears” per week. They were the only aircraft we saw while I was there. Generally, the intercepts occurred on Fridays and Sundays, at the “Bears” flew from Murmansk to Cuba on training and, we guessed, “fun” missions. Generally, we did these barrel rolls at the request of the Soviet crewmembers.  They gave us hand signals to let us know they wanted us to do it.  They photographed us as well.  The Cold War was winding down and the attitudes on both sides had improved,” Sihler explains.

When asked whether the barrel roll was difficult or unsafe maneuver, Bob has no doubts: “Not really!  The Soviets, at the time, gave us hand signals asking us to “perform” for them. The rolls were not dangerous at all.”

The famous shot of the inverted flying F-4 Phantom (the aircraft was actually ending a barrel roll).

An F-4C from 57th FIS escorts a Tu-95 intercepted near Iceland in the early 1970s.

The same 57th FIS F-4C that performed the barrel roll around the Tu-95 depicted during the same intercept mission.

A Tu-95 as seen from a Phantom’s cockpit.

A big thank you to Robert Sihler for answering our questions and providing the photographs you can find in this article.

Russia Unveils New Tu-160M2 Strategic Super Bomber Update

The Newest Version of the Massive Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack Was Rolled-Out This Week.

Russia has rolled out the latest upgrade of the world’s largest supersonic strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-160M2 “White Swan” NATO codename “Blackjack.

While the original version of the Tu-160 first flew in December of 1981, the program was halted with collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine acquired several of the aircraft that were subsequently traded back to Russia in a bombers-for-natural gas deal.

“While ostensibly an improved variant of the Soviet-era Tu-160, the Tu-160M2 is a new bomber in all but name” according statements published in Russian media from the Russian Aerospace Force.

By appearance and Russian claims, the Tu-160 appears to be an impressive aircraft, with the completely updated “M2” version purported to be even more capable. The Tu-160 in its previous variants held a number of records for speed in its weight class. It remains the largest, fastest strategic bomber in operation, second only to the developmental U.S. built XB-70 Valkyrie in size, weight and performance. It is also the world’s largest variable-geometry swept wing aircraft, significantly larger and heavier than the U.S. B-1B strategic, supersonic variable-swept wing bomber.

This latest version of the titanic “Blackjack”, as it is known in the west, is expected to make its first flight in late 2018 and enter into full-rate production by 2021 according to Russian media.

“The first Tu-160M2 is expected to make its first flight by the end of 2018, followed by full-scale production in 2021,” Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russian Air Force, told media in the rollout ceremony at the S.P. Grobunov assembly facility in Kazan, in southwest Russia on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

The newly built Blackjack will initially be capable of performing the same missions as the existing Blackjack fleet and will subsequently be modified and upgraded to the M2 standard.

Analysts note that the full-scale production date has been rolled back from 2019 to the new 2021 date announced today.

The Tu-160M2 is intended to be the basis of Russia’s strategic strike capability, but funding for the project has faced challenges.

All reports suggest the only similarities between the new “M2” version of the Tu-160 are the name and the airframe. All avionics, sensors and communications equipment are reported to be new. The aircraft is also intended to be re-engined with four new, upgraded Kuznetsov NK-32 engines with afterburners.

Interestingly, the rollout of the new Tu-160M2 seems to have quieted discussion of the conceptual Tupolev PAK-DA flying wing stealth bomber, a project shown in drawings since 2008. Early reports suggested the PAK-DA would be entering service in 2025-2030. A statement today during the Tu-160M2 rollout downplayed low-observable technology, saying that the Mach 2+ speed of the Tu-160M2 and the use of stand-off weapons negated the need for stealth. Key new weapons on the Tu-160M2 are the KH-101 and KH-102 long range, low-observable cruise missiles. These large, capable, precision missile systems have ranges in excess of 1,000 miles.

The Tu-160M2 will operate alongside the aging Russian Tu-95 Bear turboprop long range maritime patrol and strategic bomber in the foreseeable future, mimicking the U.S. reliance on their B-52 Stratofortress legacy heavy bomber alongside the B-1B (conventional) supersonic strategic bomber.

Image credit: United Aircraft Corp Russia.

 

Here’s Why The U.S. Air Force Scrambled An E-3 Sentry Alongside Two F-22s To Intercept The Russian Bombers Off Alaska

For two days in a row, Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear bombers flew near Alaska’s airspace.

On Apr. 17 the U.S. Air Force scrambled two F-22 Raptor stealth jets, one E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft and a KC-135 tanker (according to some reports, others don’t mention the Stratotanker’s presence) to intercept two nuclear-capable Bears flying roughly 100 nm southwest of Kodiak.

The stealth jets took off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and intercepted the Russian aircraft inside the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), “the airspace over land or water in which the identification, location and control of civilian aircraft is performed in the interest of national security.”

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.

North America ADIZs

The F-22 escorted the Tu-95s for 12 minutes (27 for some sources) before the Russian bombers headed back.

On the following night, that is to say few hours after the first “visit”, the Bear flew again inside the ADIZ but this time, the US Air Force opted to not scramble fighter jets but only the E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System). It’s not the first time the Russian Bears fly in the ADIZ, not even the first time that no fighter jet is scrambled to meet them.

Alaska ADIZ detail

“Combined scramble”

Let’s have a look at the first episode. It’s worth of note that along with the 5th generation interceptors, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) called for an alert take off by an E-3 Sentry. Most of times, QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) take offs by armed interceptors are supported by tanker aircraft, not by AEW assets: the fighters are guided to the unknown aircraft by ground air defense radars. That’s why I want to draw your attention on this “combined scramble.”

Launching the AEW along with the fighters is a “tactics” that allows the Air Defense to extend the radar coverage and to better investigate the eventual presence of additional bombers or escorting fighters flying “embedded” with the “zombies” (as the unknown aircraft are usually dubbed in the QRA jargon). At the same time, the presence of an E-3 allows the Raptors to improve their situational awareness while reducing the radar usage and maximizing as much as possible their stealth capability (even though it must be remembered that F-22s in QRA usually carry fuel tanks that make them less “invisible” to radars).

A combined AEW/F-22 scramble provides a more effective way to counter a possible “strike package”.

A long range sortie is not easy to plan. Even more so a strike sortie: the bomber are not only required to fly inbound the target (TGT) and reach a convient position to simulate the attack and weapons delivery, they also need to take in consideration many other factors. First of all “what is your goal?” Do you want to train for a realistic strike? Or do you want to “spy” or show your presence or posture?

Other factors are distance from own country, opponent’s defense capability, minimum risk routing according to the threats, presence of DCA (Defensive Counter Air), supporting assets, etc.

Usually, during a strike sortie, bombers are considered the HVA (High Value Asset), the one that must be protected. For this reason during the planning phase they are always escorted by fighter and protected by the Ground to Air threats by means of SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses), EW (Electronic Warfare) and everything is needed to let them able to hit their targeted.

However, escorting a strategic bomber is not always possible (nor convenient): considered their limited range, the presence of the fighters would heavily affect the long range planning, requiring support from multiple tankers along the route.

For this reason, although the Russians visit the West Coast quite often, they usually are not escorted by any fighter jet (as happens, for instance, in the Baltic region, where Tu-22s are often accompanied by Su-27 Flankers).

However, it’s better to be prepared and trained for the worst case scenario and this is probably the reason why NORAD included an E-3 AEW in the QRA team: to have a look at the Tu-95s and make sure there was no “sweep” fighters or subsequent “package”.

Based on my experience, the ones of last week were just simulated strike sorties with the only aim to test the U.S. tactics and reaction times. Something that happens quite frequently. There is also the chance the Bears were sent there while another Russian spyplane was in the vicinity to “sniff” the Raptors electromagnetic emissions. However, there are no reports of Il-20 ELINT aircraft in the area.

A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) lands at U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay. AWACS provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S. and NATO air defense forces and is considered to be the premier air battle command and control aircraft in the world today. U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley. (RELEASED)

Top image: file photo of a Raptor taking off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

 

Salva

Salva

Russian Tu-142 appears over Syria for the first time (the day after the USN launched first strikes from the Med Sea)

One day after the U.S. Navy launched the first strikes from the Mediterranean a Russian Tu-142, an aircraft developed for reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare, was spotted over Aleppo, Syria.

The following video, allegedly filmed on Jun. 5, 2016, at Aleppo, Syria clearly shows a Russian Bear flying overhead.

Based on the barely visible search radar underneath the fuselage and the characteristic tail with a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) boom, the aircraft seems to be a Tu-142M “Bear F”, a reconnaissance and ASW variant derived from the iconic Tu-95 Bear bomber.

Whilst the “standard” Tu-95s have already been used to carry out air strikes against Syrian ground targets beginning in November last year, the one spotted over Aleppo would be (if confirmed) the first Tu-142 to take part in the air war over Syria.

As said the Tu-142 was developed as a maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. However, it is believed to be able to carry different sensor packages and some believe the Bear F could be used as an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform, to pinpoint targets for tactical strike aircraft.

However, as long-range naval reconnaissance plane, the Tu-142 could also have been tasked to keep an eye on the USS Truman CSG (Carrier Strike Group): a “response” of Moscow to the first air strikes launched by an aircraft carrier from the eastern Mediterranean Sea since 2003.

Watch this video of Iranian F-14 Tomcats escorting a Russian Tu-95 bomber during air strike in Syria

Persian Tomcat and Russian Bear fly together during a strike mission against ground targets in Syria.

Something really interesting details have been exposed by the material released by Russia’s MoD lately.

Indeed, as you can see in the video below, IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-14 Tomcat interceptors escorted Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear bombers flying in Iranian airspace during their 9h 30mins missions (from Engels airbase and back, along the Iraq-Iran-Caspian Sea 6,500 km-long corridor) against terrorist targets in Syria.

F-14 IRIAF escort Tu-95 composite

With the U.S. Navy retiring the legendary F-14 in September 2006, nowadays the IRIAF is the only operator of the Tomcat, a type of aircraft that Tehran has kept airworthy throughout the years in spite of the embargo imposed after the 1979 Revolution.

Not only did the Iranians keep some F-14s in active service but they have also upgraded it with some domestic avionics upgrades and weapons that should extend the life of the last flying Tomcats until 2030.