Tag: NATO

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Russian Su-30SM and Italian F-35As Had Their First Close Encounter Over The Baltic Sea

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Russian Su-30SM Italian F-35A
A screenshot of the video released by the Fighter Bomber instagram account showing the Russian Su-30SM and the Italian F-35A.

A video shows an interesting intercept that occurred in international airspace off Estonia.

It was just a matter of time but, in the end, a pretty interesting (and quite relaxed) close encounter between a Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM two-seat multirole aircraft and two Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft, took place in the Baltic Region.

One video and two shots, released today by the popular “Fighter Bomber” (@fighter_bomber_) Instagram account, show a Russian Su-30SM Flanker derivative flying alongside two F-35As over the Baltic Sea, somewhere off Estonia, where the Italian stealth jets are deployed to carry out QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) task in support of NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.

The short clip shows the two F-35s approaching what seems to be a An-12 (like the one already intercepted by the Italians in that scenario on May 14) aircraft that is probably flying to/from Kaliningrad oblast escorted by at least one Su-30SM.

The Italian F-35A involved in the intercept belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, the first unit of the Aeronautica Militare to receive the Lightning in 2016 and the first in Europe to achieve IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in November 2018. As explained in details in a few recent articles, the Italian jets have arrived in Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021, marking both the first time the Italian stealth jets deploy to the Baltic and the first time 5th generation aircraft support NATO’s mission in the Baltic States. On May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

The Italian F-35A jets carry out the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service in the same configuration used to support the domestic SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) on a rotational basis, where the SCL (Standard Conventional Load) includes two AIM-120C AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay. They also carry RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers (so they don’t fly in stealth mode).

Interestingly, the Su-30SM in the video appears to carry an IR-guided R-27T/ET (NATO reporting name AA-10 Alamo) air-to-air missile. Even more worth of remark is the fact that the Flanker was escorting an An-12: unless this was some special mission variant of the “Cub”, it seems quite weird that the Russian Su-30SM was escorting a simple transport aircraft. Unless, they knew NATO would scramble the F-35s and wanted the close encounter to take place.  Anyway, let’s also wait for NATO to release some details (and possibly photo) of the intercept.

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.

Here Are The Photos Of The First Ever Intercept Of A Russian Aircraft By F-35 Under NATO Command In The Baltics

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F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

We have obtained the photos of the first intercept by F-35s supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing mission last month.

As already reported, the Italian Air Force F-35 aircraft deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission, carried out their first intercept on May 14, 2021.

The Lightning II jets, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, were scrambled after the Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, detected an unidentified track in the Baltic Sea flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad. Upon take off, the F-35s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) approached and identified a Russian An-12 transport aircraft flying in international airspace off Estonia.

Initially, no official photo of the intercepted Russian aircraft was released. “Actually, unlike the majority of the other allies, Italy rarely releases images of the “zombies” (as the targets of the intercept mission are called in fighter pilot lingo) taken by the Italian pilots during their QRA launches in support of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing missions around Europe,” this Author commented back then.

However, responding to a request we submitted immediately after the news of the intercept had been released, NATO Allied Air Command has eventually provided us two images showing one of the two Italian F-35s escorting the An-12 over the Baltics: nothing special to be honest, since the configuration of the Lightning was standard (with RCS enhancers and no external air-to-air missile launchers) and the “zombie” was just a “Cub” transport plane, still interesting, as they represent the only photo evidence of the first ever intercept of an F-35 under NATO command in the Baltics for the records.

Noteworthy, you can also see the pretty distinctive wingtip vortices (similar to contrails) generated by the F-35.

The flaperon and wingtip vortices have long been subject of discussion here at The Aviationist. GAO claimed that these could affect the aircraft’s stealth performance; others suggest these visible “tubes of circulating air which are left behind the aircraft’s wing as it generates lift” may make the aircraft more easily picked up visually by an enemy pilot in a WVR (Within Visual Range) engagement even though some pilots have explained that they are not a factor because if you are close enough to see the F-35’s vortices, you are probably close enough to see the jet. True, although some images taken from the ground and posted online recently of F-35s trailing a tanker indeed seem to confirm that, under certain conditions, those vortices may highlight the presence of the jet from several miles away.

F-35 intercept An-12
An Italian Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft intercepting a Russian An-12 on 14 May 2021. This was the first intercept a modern fighter aircraft executed in the Baltic Sea region as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Italy has augmented the collective Allied mission safeguarding the skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since beginning of May 2021. Photo by Italian Air Force (all rights reserved).

The Italian F-35s deployed to Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021; on May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

The Italian F-35s will remain in Estonia for the BAP mission until August, supporting “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia. The F-35s will then be replaced by the Italian Typhoons as the plan calls for Italy to support NATO BAP in Estonia until the end of 2021.

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.

Italian Air Force Identifies Russian An-12 Off Estonia In First Ever Intercept By F-35 Supporting NATO BAP

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F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
File photo of an F-35A supporting NATO mission in Iceland in 2019 (Image credit: Author)

The Italian F-35 jets deployed to Estonia, scored their first intercept under NATO command in the Baltic region.

On May 14, 2021, the Italian Air Force F-35 aircraft deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission, were scrambled and executed their first intercept.

“The Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, recorded an unidentified track in the Baltic Sea  flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad and ordered an alert scramble for the F-35s mission to identify that track. Upon take-off, the Italian NATO aircraft approached and identified a Russian An-12 transport aircraft executing the first ever intercept by an F-35 under NATO orders in the Baltic Sea,” NATO Allied Air Command said in a public statement.

“The Russian military transport plane was flying over international waters close to the Estonian coast; it was not on a flight plan and not sending a transponder signal causing a potential risk to other airspace users. Upon completing the identification, the Italian fighter aircraft returned to Ämari Air Base.”

The Italian F-35A involved in the intercept belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, the first unit of the Aeronautica Militare to receive the Lightning in 2016 and the first in Europe to achieve IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in November 2018.

F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
An F-35A of the Aeronautica Militare launches from Amari AB, Estonia. (Image credit: ItAF)

The Italian F-35A jets carry out the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service in the same configuration used to support the domestic SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) on a rotational basis, where the SCL (Standard Conventional Load) includes two AIM-120C AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay.

The Italian jets have arrived in Estonia, on Apr. 30, 2021, marking both the first time the Italian stealth jets deploy to the Baltic and the first time 5th generation aircraft support NATO’s mission in the Baltic States. On May 3, the Italian detachment officially took over the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the German Air Force Eurofighter detachment, starting providing QRA duties.

Italian F-35 Intercept
An Italian Air Force F-35A at Amari AB, Estonia. (Image credit: ItAF)

Under NATO command, the Italian F-35s will remain in Estonia until August, supporting “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia. The F-35s will then be replaced by the Italian Typhoons: in other words, Italy will support NATO BAP in Estonia until the end of 2021.

“The integration of the F-35 advanced capabilities demonstrates how the Allies bring their cutting-edge technology and support NATO’s enduring defensive mission in the region,” said Brigadier General Andrew Hansen, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at Allied Air Command, said in a public release. “The mission in the Baltics epitomises NATO cohesion and solidarity; at Ämari, the deployed Allied fighter detachments have enabled us at AIRCOM to flexibly conduct the mission and at the same time assure the Baltic populations of NATO’s commitment,” General Hansen added.

F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
File photo of an F-35A about to launch for a QRA mission from Keflavik International Airport during the 2019 deployment in support of NATO Icelandic Air Policing. Note the AIM-120C inside the weapons bay (Image credit: Author)

Although it’s the first time they operate from Estonia, the Italian Air Force F-35A jets have already supported NATO Air Policing mission in Iceland twice: the first time was in 2019, the second in 2020, when the Italian Lightnings scrambled for the first time to intercept a formation of three Russian Tu-142s. As happened back then, no official photo of the intercepted Russian aircraft has been released. Actually, unlike the majority of the other allies, Italy rarely releases images of the “zombies” (as the targets of the intercept mission are called in fighter pilot lingo) taken by the Italian pilots during their QRA launches in support of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing missions around Europe.

F-35 Intercept Russian An-20 in Estonia
An Italian Air Force F-35A at Amari AB, Estonia. (Image credit: ItAF)

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.

The Italian F-35As Have Deployed To Estonia For NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission

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Italian F-35 Estonia
Two Italian Air Force F-35As. (Image credit: Author)

It’s the first time 5th generation aircraft take part in BAP mission.

On Apr. 30, 2021, four Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II jets landed at Amari Air Base, Estonia, to take over the NATO’s BAP (Baltic Air Policing) mission. It’s the first time the Italian stealth jets deploy to Estonia (even though the Italian Eurofighter Typhoons operated there for BAP in 2018) and also the first time that 5th generation aircraft support NATO’s mission in the Baltic States.

The Italian F-35s belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, and their deployment to Estonia was supported by a KC-767A tanker, flying as IAM1447 (and tracking online), from Pratica di Mare Air Base.

As part of the “Baltic Eagle II” mission, the Italian F-35A aircraft, operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia will replace the German Air Force Eurofighters which have been deployed to Amari since late August.

At the same time, after leading BAP for 8 months, the Italian Typhoons have completed their rotation at Siauliai, Lithuania.

Although it’s the first time they operate from Estonia, the Italian Air Force F-35A jets have already supported NATO Air Policing mission in Iceland twice: the first time in 2019, the second in 2020, when the Italian Lightnings scrambled for the first time to intercept a formation of three Russian Tu-142s.

In case you are wondering why the F-35A, that is not a “pure” interceptor, is committed to provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert), an air defense mission in Estonia and the Batlic States, here’s the explanation this Author provided in a previous article about the participation of the Italian Lightnings to the Icelandic Air Policing mission:

Well, the reason is quite simple: deploying the 5th gen. stealth aircraft under NATO command allows the service (in this case, the Italian Air Force) to test the asset as part of a different chain of command, with different procedures, on a different base, and in different (sometimes adverse/austere) weather conditions. The peacetime air policing mission requires the aircraft in QRA to scramble with live air-to-air missiles when there is the need to intercept, identify and escort, aircraft approaching or “skirting” NATO Ally’s sovereign airspace: a task that an F-35 is more than able to conduct. Moreover, the deployment on a NATO mission is one of the milestones the Italian Air Force has set along the path to achieve the type’s FOC ( BTW, it’s worth remembering that, first in Europe, the Italians declared the F-35’s IOC on Nov. 30, 2018).

This time the ItAF F-35s will provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) from Estonia, much closer to Russia.

Previous U.S. F-35 trip to Estonia.

Dealing with the F-35 and Estonia, it’s worth remembering what happened in April 2017, when two U.S. Air Force F-35As belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, deployed to the UK flew from RAF Lakenheath, UK, to Amari for a short visit. In fact, the quick stopover was “accompanied” by a rather unusual activity of U.S. and British spyplanes in the Baltic region: as many as three RC-135s (including a RAF Rivet Joint) operated in the airspaces over or close to Estonia as the F-35s headed to, stayed and returned from Amari. Back then, we speculated the presence of the three spyplanes was related to the F-35s trip: they were probably “covering” the stealth jets, deterring the Russians from using their radars to gather details on the Lightnings at their first trip to Estonia. We also noted that it was not the first time U.S. stealth jets flying to the Baltics were directly or indirectly “accompanied” by Rivet Joints: on Apr. 27, 2016, two F-22s deployed to Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania supported (so to say) by an RC-135W.

Whatever, although the peacetime NATO QRA configuration does not require the F-35s to keep their LO (Low Observability) – this is the reason why the Lightnings on alert are equipped with radar reflectors/RCS enhancers – it’s quite likely that the presence of the Italian F-35A 5th generation stealth aircraft in Estonia, not far from the border with mainland Russia, will attract some interest by the Russians land and airborne ELINT sensors, targeting, if not the F-35’s radar signature at specific wavelengths, at least its valuable radar emissions… We will see.

A big thank you to our friend Giovanni Colla for sending us additional details about the deployment!

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.

NATO Interceptors Scrambled 10 Times In 6 Hours To Shadow Russian Bombers And Fighters Near Alliance Airspace

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NATO Eurofighter escorting Russian group
An Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon escorting a group of Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea off the Lithuanian Coast during an intercept on March 29, 2021. (Image credit: Italian Air Force via NATO).

NATO fighter jets shadowed Russian bombers and fighters during an “unusual peak of flights” over the North Atlantic, North Sea, Black Sea and Baltic Sea, yesterday.

Monday Mar. 29, 2021, was particularly busy for NATO fighters. According to the NATO Allied Air Command, its fighters, providing Air Policing at various locations along the borders of the Alliance, intercepted different groups of Russian military aircraft near NATO airspace in less than six hours.

“Intercepting multiple groups of Russian aircraft demonstrates NATO forces’ readiness and capability to guard Allied skies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” said Brigadier General Andrew Hansen, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at Allied Air Command, Ramstein, Germany, in a public release.

In the High North, Norwegian F-16s scrambled after radars spotted two groups of Russian military aircraft flying near Norway’s coast.

“The Norwegian jets intercepted two Tu-95 Bear bombers, which continued to fly south over the North Sea prompting the United Kingdom and Belgium to scramble Typhoon and F-16 fighters, respectively,” says the NATO statement, although the aircraft depicted in the photographs released by the Royal Air Force were Tu-142 “Bear-F” long-range maritime patrol reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft

The Belgian Air Force F-16s were also scrambled to respond to the Russian bombers presence over the North Sea. The Belgian Vipers have recently returned to full operational status after being grounded following an incident last month in which an F-16 experienced an engine problem taking off from Florennes.

Later in the day, the Norwegian F-16s intercepted two Tu-160 Blackjack bombers over international waters.

Turkish, Romanian and Bulgarian fighter aircraft were also scrambled  track Russian aircraft operating in the Black Sea area. The types of Russian aircraft in this group have not been disclosed.

In the Baltic Sea, the Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons deployed to Šiauliai, Lithunia, to support NATO Baltic Air Policing mission, were launched to identify a Russian Il-38 “Dolphin” (NATO reporting name “May”) ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft which was escorted by the F-2000s over the Baltic Sea flying into and out of Kaliningrad Oblast.

Interestingly, a photo of this intercept has been released by NATO Allied Air Command and shows the Russian Il-38 escorted by two Su-27 Flankers flying in “formation” with the Italian Eurofighters (one clearly visible in the photo, another one not visible, because it was the camera ship).

“The men and women at NATO’s two Combined Air Operations Centres in Uedem, Germany, and Torrejón, Spain, quickly responded to unidentified aircraft near the Alliance’s borders by launching fighters from Norway, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey to investigate and protect allied airspace”, Brigadier Hansen said, adding that NATO’s Air Policing mission is a “truly collective effort”.

Obviously, the Russian aircraft intercepted on Monday remained in international airspace near NATO airspace, and the interceptions “were conducted in a safe and routine manner”. However, as explained by NATO “Russian military aircraft often do not transmit a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, do not file a flight plan, or do not communicate with air traffic controllers, posing a potential risk to civilian airliners,” as happened a few years ago in the Baltic Sea, when an Il-20 almost collided with a civilian aircraft near Sweden.

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.

Cockpit Video Shows Russian Su-27 Flanker Crossing Within 100 feet Of The Nose Of A B-52 Over The Black Sea

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equence of screenshots from the video released by the Pentagon show the unsafe pass of the Su-27 on Aug. 28, 2020. (Image credit: DoD/TheAviationist)

As we have already reported with plenty of details, on Aug. 28, 2020, six U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers participated in Allied Sky, a single-day mission that saw the BUFFs overflying all 30 NATO nations.

In particular, one of the B-52s of the 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, currently deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, as part of Bomber Task Force 20-4, using the  radio callsign “NATO 01” and keeping its Mode-S transponder on, undertook an interesting tour flying from RAF Fairford across Eastern Europe to the Black Sea area and then back via (among the others) Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and France.

During its 12-hour tour, NATO01/61-0034 was escorted by JAS 39 Gripen over the Czech Republic; by F-16s and MiG-21 Lancers over Romania; MiG-29s over Bulgaria; MiG-21s over Croatia; F-16s over Greece; Italian Air Force Typhoons and F-35s intercepted and escorted NATO 01 over Italy. As explained in the previous article, when over the Black Sea, off Crimea, the B-52 was also escorted by two Russian Air Force Su-27 Flankers that, according to the Pentagon, carried out an unsafe and unprofessional intercept on the U.S. bomber. We linked the press release in yesterday article but let’s have a look at in more in detail here:

At approximately 11:19 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2020, two Russian Su-27 Flanker pilots intercepted a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber that was conducting routine operations in the black sea over international waters. The Russian pilots flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner while crossing within 100 feet of the nose of the B-52 multiple times at co-altitude and while in afterburner causing turbulence and restricting the B-52’s ability to maneuver.

“Actions like these increase the potential for midair collisions, are unnecessary, and inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander. “While the Russian aircraft were operating in international airspace, they jeopardized the safety of flight of the aircraft involved. We expect them to operate within international standards set to ensure safety and prevent accidents,” he added.

Our B-52 Stratofortress aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace exercising our freedom of navigation and overflight. The U.S. Air Force routinely operates aircraft in the region in accordance with recognized international safety standards as prescribed in International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules of flight.

We don’t know where the intercept took place. However, we have an idea of the route the aircraft flew thanks to Planeradar.ru:

B-52 flying off Crimea over the Black Sea. (Image credit: PlaneRadar.ru)

It’s not the first time and it won’t probably be the last one the Russian intercept is deemed “unprofessional” and “unsafe”. We have reported about several such incidents, most of time involving U.S. Navy P-8A Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft in the Black Sea or off Syria, when Russian and also Chinese fighters allegedly performed Top Gun-like stunts close to a U.S. aircraft. However, in most such cases just footage filmed by the onboard camera is released and we have never really seen interceptors aggressively maneuvering in front of the U.S. aircraft. Quite the contrary, the footage usually released only shows the interceptors closing on the wings of their target, without doing anything really dangerous, so much a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models, commenting the intercepts, once told us “what passes for dangerous and provocative today was ho-hum to recon crews of my generation (although we weren’t shot at like the early fliers from 1950-1960).” Moreover, back in the days, some “stunts” were performed at the request of the intercepted aircraft.

This time, it’s different. The Pentagon has released a clip, possibly filmed with a smartphone, of the Russian Su-27 crossing extremely close to the nose of the B-52. That’s, by all standards, dangerous and unprofessional. Take a look by yourself (if you can’t see the video in the tweet below click here):

Thus far, these stunts have never caused real damage but we should not forget some incidents of the past.

On Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters. One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield. The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11, 2001.

On Sept. 13, 1987, a RNoAF P-3B had a mid air collision with a Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker over the Barents Sea. While maneuvering below the P-3B, the Su-27P collided with the outboard right propeller of the Orion: the impact shattered a fin tip of the Su-27P and caused fragments of the propeller to puncture the P-3B’s fuselage, causing a decompression. The Orion experienced severe vibrations and the outboard right engine was shut down. Both aircraft were able to return safely to their bases.

Now, considered all the tensions of this Cold War 2.0 era, imagine the reactions would a Russian fighter collide mid-air with a U.S. strategic bomber..

Here Are All The Best Photos Of The B-52s Escorted By NATO Fighters During Their Unprecedented Tour Of Europe

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Composite image showing the B-52 escorted by the BAF F-16s, the Polish AF MiG-29s and F-16s and intercepted by the Russian Su-27 over the Black Sea. In the box, the route of NATO 01. (Image credit: TheAviationist/BAF/Polish Air Force/Zvezda/ADSBExchange)

On Aug. 28, 2020, four B-52H Stratofortress bombers, belonging to the 5th Bomb Wing, from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, as part of the latest Bomber Task Force Europe, carried out an unprecedented mission across Europe.

Allied Sky was a single-day mission that saw 6 B-52s overflying all 30 NATO nations to demonstrate NATO solidarity, enhance readiness and provide training opportunities aimed at enhancing interoperability for all participating aircrews from the U.S. and NATO allies.

Allied Sky was conducted by two teams: four B-52 Stratofortresses out of six currently deployed to Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford, U.K., were tasked to cover European portion of the mission (that would see also the integration with with several NATO nations’ air force fighter aircraft and aerial refueling aircraft in the skies above each host nation); two B-52 Stratofortresses assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N. D., flew over the NATO nations of Canada and the United States.

During the mission, out of the four B-52 flying in Europe, only 61-0034 used its Mode-S transponder and could be tracked online during its long trip (the others, serials 60-0005, 60-0007 and 60-0056, could not be tracked online using the popular flight tracking websites ADSBExchange, PlaneRadar, Airnav RadarBox etc.).

Using the radio callsign “NATO 01” (a first, considered that the callsign NATO xx is usually reserved to the Alliance’s E-3A AWACS home-based at Geilenkirchen Air Base), the B-52H/61-0034, undertook an interesting tour flying from RAF Fairford across Eastern Europe to the Black Sea area and then back via (among the others) Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy.

The route roughly flown by NATO01 (there are some parts where the aircraft was not under MLAT coverage). (Image credit: ADSBExchange)

Overall, the B-52s in Europe were escorted by combat aircraft of all types: RAF Typhoons and FAF Mirage 2000 over the Baltic off Lithuania; while flying over Belgium, 60-0005 was escorted by BAF F-16s; the 60-0005 (NATO 04) was also intercepted and escorted by RDAF F-16s and RNoAF F-35s; over Poland, the B-52 60-0056 was escorted by F-16s and MiG-29s; while the BUFF 61-0034 was accompanied by JAS 39 Gripen over the Czech Republic; by F-16s and MiG-21 Lancers over Romania; MiG-29s over Bulgaria; MiG-21s over Croatia; F-16s over Greece; Italian Air Force Typhoons and F-35s intercepted and escorted NATO 01 over Italy.

During the Turkish segment, the B-52 NATO 01 was also refueled by a Turkish Air Force KC-135 tanker:

Noteworthy, the BUFF NATO 01 was also escorted by the Russians, as it was intercepted by Russian Air Force Su-27 Flankers over the Black Sea (an intercept that the U.S. DoD defined “unsafe and unprofessional”, as happened several times in the past):

Here are some of the images released by the various NATO members. Unfortunately, not all nations and air forces did take aerial shots, but some made an outstanding job!

Belgium:

Czech Republic:

Croatia:

RAF on BAP (Baltic Air Policing mission):

Romania:

Poland:

Greece:

Over Canada, the two B-52s launched from Minot AFB as NATO 05 and 06, were escorted by RCAF CF-188s.

Here are the radio comms of the B-52 over Belgium with F-16 escort:

Although such missions are “long-planned and not in response to any current political events occurring in Europe”, Allied Sky and the symbolic flyover of the NATO capitals sent a clear message of unity to potential adversaries and proved U.S. ability to launch strategic mission from both CONUS and Europe.

BTW, as the U.S. bombers made their tour of NATO countries, the Russian Aerospace Forces also carried out drills, including Tu-142 missions in the Alaskan ADIZ, which caused the intercept by the U.S. F-22s under NORAD command:

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Italian F-35As Perform First Alert Scramble From Iceland To Monitor Activity Of Three Russian Tu-142 Bear F/J Aircraft

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Two ItAF F-35s deployed to Keflavik (Photo: Italian Ministry of Defense)

On Jul. 3, 2020, three Northern Fleet Tu-142 aircraft flew a 12-hour mission across the Barents and Norwegian Sea, and over the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. The 7,000 km trip was supported by at least one Russian Air Force Il-78 tanker aircraft, that refueled the Tu-142 Bear F/J along the way, and by an unspecified number of MiG-31 interceptors that provided fighter escort to the ASW and maritime patrol aircraft. NATO has confirmed us that MiG-31, Tu-142 Bear F, Tu-142 Bear J and Il-78 were the Russian assets involved in the mission.

Several NATO aircraft were scrambled to intercept or monitor the Russian Naval Aviation activity. Among them, the Italian Air Force F-35A jets currently deployed to Iceland, for Operation Northern Lighting II, their second tour of duty in support of NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing mission. According to NATO, the Italian 5th generation aircraft, belonging to th Task Group “Falco” of the Task Force Air 32nd Wing, in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) at Keflavik, were scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft on their way to their operating area south of Iceland. The A-Scramble (Alert-Scramble), marked the first time an F-35A of any partner nation was scrambled under NATO command for a real-world mission from Iceland.

A second pair of F-35A jets was then scrambled to establish a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) and monitor the activity of the Russian ASW aircraft on their way back.

Interestingly, a similar activity of Russian Tu-142s was also recorded on Mar. 7, 2020. Back then, the NATO fighters intercepted both Tu-142MK (Bear F) and one Tu-142MR variant (Bear J) that was escorted by at least one MiG-31 Foxhound. While the Tu-142MK is designed to perform ASW and its goal is to search and destroy submarines in distant patrol areas, the Tu-142MR “Bear J” is a VLF band radio communications relay platform whose mission is similar in concept to the one of US E-6A TACAMO: it provides a communications relay capability to submerged SSBNs, SSGNs and SSNs. The Bear J is based on the Bear F airframe but has a ventral fairing containing the VLF antenna cable reel and unique nose radome and antenna on the vertical tail. NATO

The two types of Tu-142s often team up during long-range training missions carried out along the borders of NATO’s airspace.

Dealing with Iceland, as already explained in several article here at The Aviationist, on a rotational basis, three times a year, allied nations contribute, for three or four weeks, to the Interim Air Policing in Iceland, a country that does not have autonomous air defence assets and capabilities but is strategically located close to the Arctic. For the sixth time in total since 2013 and the second with the F-35 in less than one year (read our full report about the first deployment here) the Italian Air Force is securing the skies over Iceland, supporting NATO’s Airborne Surveillance and Interception Capabilities to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs (ASIC IPPN) mission. The purpose of the NATO mission, initiated in 2008, after the withdrawal of US forces from the island, is to provide air surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland, in order to maintain the integrity of the NATO airspace.

An Italian Air Force F-35A sits in front of the shelter at Keflavik. Note the AIM-120 missile visibile in the weapon bay. (Image credit: Author)

Here are some details about the F-35’s QRA I provided in an article published after visiting the Italian detachment in Keflavik. They still apply:

The Italian F-35s carry out the QRA service in Iceland with the same configuration used to support the domestic SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) on a rotational basis, where the SCL (Standard Conventional Load) includes two AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles in the internal weapons bay.

One may wonder why the F-35, that is not a “pure” interceptor, is committed to such an air defense mission. Well, the reason is quite simple: deploying the 5th gen. stealth aircraft under NATO command allows the service (in this case, the Italian Air Force) to test the asset as part of a different chain of command, with different procedures, on a different base, and in different (sometimes adverse/austere) weather conditions. The peacetime air policing mission requires the aircraft in QRA to scramble with live air-to-air missiles when there is the need to intercept, identify and escort, aircraft approaching or “skirting” NATO Ally’s sovereign airspace: a task that an F-35 is more than able to conduct. Moreover, the deployment on a NATO mission is one of the milestones the Italian Air Force has set along the path to achieve the type’s FOC ( BTW, it’s worth remembering that, first in Europe, the Italians declared the F-35’s IOC on Nov. 30, 2018).

An Italian F-35 flying over Iceland in October 2019 during Operation Northern Lightning, the first mission in support of NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing. (Image credit: Author)

One last remark: the one on Jul. 3, 2020 is also the first ever A-Scramble for the Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II fleet.

Cockpit Footage Of BAF F-16 Intercepting Russian Fighters Flying Over USS Donald Cook Destroyer In The Baltic Sea

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Some screenshots from the BAF footage just released by NATO.

In the late morning of Apr. 17, 2020, Belgian Air Force F-16s currently deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, to support NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission intercepted a group of Russian Federation Air Force fighters in the Baltic Sea.

According to the Allied Air Command, “the Russian fighters were maneuvering in international airspace overflying the USS Donald Cook, a US Navy 6th Fleet destroyer currently operating in the Baltic Sea off the Lithuanian coast. The Belgian F-16 conducted a professional intercept and left the scene, demonstrating that NATO remains ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any potential threat.”

Interestingly, the Belgians released some footage filmed from the cockpit (and through the pilot’s Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) as the F-16s shadowed the Russian Su-24, Su-27 and Su-30SM.

The BAF F-16s deployed in Lithuania have been quite busy lately:

Back to the recent Su-24 intercept, this was not the first time Russian Fencers flew very close or directly over NATO warships in the Baltic Sea or Black Sea. In the past, we have observed unusual and aggressive low flybys that could not be considered particularly worrisome as the Su-24s depicted in the clips and photographs were unarmed and probably only conducting “simulated attacks” on the warships at sea not too far from home.

However, the most recent intercept show a significant change: along with the 3,000 lt PTB-3000 drop tanks the Su-24Ms appear to be armed with Kh-25M (AS-10 KAREN) air-to-surface missiles, as noted by AFM Editor Thomas Newdick. The laser guided Kh-25ML is the most widespread tactical air-to-surface missile in Russian service, according to Piotr Butowski’s “Russia’s Air-launched Weapons”. This missile weights 650lb (295 kg) and is equipped with a a 200lb (90 kg) warhead. It has a max range of 10 km, a minimum launch distance after launch from low altitude of 3km and 8km from high altitude. It’s not an anti-ship missile though: for that type of mission, the Su-24M can carry the larger and heavier Kh-31A (AS-17 Krypton) with a range of 50km (31 miles).

BTW, low passages of Russian planes on U.S. Navy warships (and vice versa) are somehow frequent and usually uneventful. However, once, a show of force had a different ending when, on May 25, 1968, a Soviet Tu-16 Badger-F crashed into the sea close to USN carrier USS Essex in the Norwegian sea after a few flybys.


Cockpit Video Filmed From A Russian MiG-31 Escorting a Tu-95 Shows “Friendly” Encounter with NATO F-16

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A screenshot of the video showing a MiG-31 pilot giving the thumbs-up sign to a RNoAF F-16.

The video below was filmed from the cockpit of a MiG-31 escorting a Russian Tu-95MS as what appears to be a Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 approaches the package: the Russian pilot waves and gives the NATO pilot a thumbs up sign.

Unfortunately, we don’t know when and where the intercept took place, although it’s quite likely that the close encounter occurred in international airspace off Norway, where Russian Tu-95s and Tu-142MK ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) and maritime patrol aircraft are shadowed by the RNoAF jets. As happened, on Mar. 7, 2020, when a Tu-142MK and a Tu-142MR Bear-J VLF band radio communications relay platform, escorted by at least one MiG-31 Foxhound (armed with R-33 missiles) were intercepted by RNoAF F-16s from Bodø as well as the Norwegian F-35A launched from Orland Air Station for their first intercept of Russian aircraft.

The interaction between the NATO and Russian jets appears to be quite friendly, as often been for decades during the Cold War. Nothing like the “unsafe intercept” frequently reported lately or shown in videos we have frequently commented here at The Aviationist.

The latest unsafe intercept was reported on Apr. 15, 2020, when a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft flying in international airspace over the eastern Mediterranean Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-35 that conducted a high-speed, inverted maneuver, 25 ft. directly in front of the mission aircraft, “which put our pilots and crew at risk [because of wake turbulence]” as the USN claimed.

Back to the new video, it’s worth remembering that the MiG-31 Foxhound is a replacement for the similarly configured MiG-25 Foxbat, a high-speed, high-altitude interceptor originally conceived in response the U.S. XB-70 Valkyrie Mach 3+ strategic bomber that never entered service. The Foxbat achieved notoriety on September 6, 1976, when Russian pilot Viktor Belenko defected to Japan with a MiG-25.

The MiG-31 Foxhound is a two-seater derivative of the MiG-25.

It is a high-speed, high-altitude interceptor, in service since 1983 fielded to counter the B-1B bomber, which was designed to operate at low-level, below the radar coverage. Hence, the MiG-31 has quite good low-level capabilities and is equipped with an advanced radar with look-down-shoot-down capability needed to detect low-flying bombers, and data bus, allowing for coordinated attack with other fighters.

Although it does not belong to the latest generation of fighters, with its top speed of Mach 2.83 and a range of 1,450 km the Foxhound is still one of the most amazing interceptors ever built. Russia has recently upgraded their MiG-31 fleet with new capabilities that include hypersonic missiles and even a small satellite launch capability that was tested.

As a side note, a Kazakh Air Defense Forces MiG-31 interceptor has crashed last week.

A big thank you to our friend Lasse Holmstrom for sending this over!


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