Tag: russia

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Two Russian Tu-160s And Four Flankers Intercepted By Italian F-35s, Danish F-16s and Swedish Gripens Over The Baltic

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Tu-160 F-35
One of the two Tu-160s involved in the June 15, 2021 mission over the Baltic. (Image credit: Russian MOD)

Two Russian Tu-160s, two Su-27s and two Su-35s were escorted at various stages by NATO and Swedish fighters in the Baltic region.

Two Russian Tu-160 (NATO reporting name “Blackjack”) bombers carried out an 8-hour mission over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea on Jun. 15, 2021. Interestingly, the two “White Swan” missile-carrier bombers were escorted by two Su-35S aircraft of the Aerospace Force and two Su-27 fighters of the Baltic Fleet’s naval aviation during their trip.

The Tu-160s belong to the 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment stationed at Engels-2 Air Base in Saratov, Oblast, southwestern Russia, the only unit to fly the 14-16 Blackjack bombers believed to be operational with the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The Russian Long Range Aviation (LRA) mission in the Baltic region caused several NATO aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty to scramble: Italian Air Force F-35As, Royal Danish Air Force F-16s and Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripens were scrambled to identify and shadow the Russian “package” as it progressed across the region.

The crews of Russian long-range aircraft regularly perform flights over the neutral waters of the Arctic, the North Atlantic, the Black and Baltic Seas and the Pacific Ocean, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Today’s intercept comes less than a week after the first close encounter between an Italian F-35 and a Russian Su-30SM escorting an An-12 transport aircraft flying to/from Kaliningrad oblast, off Estonia.

As already explained, the Italian F-35A involved in the intercept are two of the four Lightning II aircraft, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy, that are currently stationed at Amari, in Estonia, where they arrived on Apr. 30, 2021, to carry out the augmenting role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission. The Italian F-35s, operating within the Task Group Falco of the Task Force Air Estonia, in support of “Baltic Eagle II” (as the mission has been dubbed at national level), will remain in Estonia for the BAP mission until August.

As a matter of fact, no photographs nor videos of the most recent intercepts were released by NATO and Italian Air Force. However, it is possible that some images will be made available in the next few days (as happened for the F-35’s first intercept in support of BAP on May 14, whose photos were cleared many days after the event), as the number of intercepts increases.

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.

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.

Russian Tu-95 And Tu-160 Bombers Conduct Cruise Missile Exercise In “Surge” Of Military Drills Across The Country

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Russian Bombers Cruise Missile Exercise
A Tu-160 Blackjack takes off for the cruise missile exercise. In the box: The Kh-555 cruise missile being loaded in the Tu-160’s bomb bays. (Photo: Russian Air Force)

Both the Russian Aerospace Forces Tu-95MS “Bear H” and the Tu-160 “Blackjack” launched Kh-555 cruise missiles at a range in the Komi Republic.

The Long-range Aviation Command of the Russian Air and Space Force conducted a command-staff exercise as part of the routine winter training, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence. Notably, the exercise included the launch of cruise missiles from its Tu-95MS “Bear H” and Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers. This exercise is one of the many disclosed during the recent surge of Russian Military activity across the entire country and especially in the Black Sea region.

About ten aircraft, including the Tu-95MSs, Tu-160s and their supporting Il-78 “Midas” tankers, flew from the Saratov region to a range in the Komi Republic, in northwestern Russia, west of Urals, where they struck ground targets with the cruise missiles, returning to their base after more than 7 hours. The mission included “[air-to-air] refueling at an altitude of more than 6,000 meters [about 19,700 ft] and a speed of about 600 kilometers per hour [about 320 kts], as well as air patrolling in a given zone”.

Although not mentioned in the statement from the MoD, the bombers involved should belong to the Bomber Regiments based at Engels airbase, which is in fact in the Saratov region, while the unspecified range should be the Pemboy range, which is in fact in the Komi Republic about 60 kilometers from Vorkuta. The same range was also used in 2019 to perform the first test of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile in the Barents Sea region.

As for the cruise missiles, the MoD published a video from this exercise showing inert Kh-555 missiles being loaded in the bomb bays of both the Tu-95 and the Tu-160. The Kh-555 is a conventionally armed variant of the Kh-55 (NATO reporting name AS-15 “Kent”) nuclear-tipped subsonic cruise missile, with an improved guidance system and a range of at least 2,500 km (1,350 nm), with some sources reporting it up to 3,000/3,500 km.

The missile became operational in the early 2000s and can be carried by the Tu-95 (six or 16 missiles, depending on the bomber’s version) and the Tu-160 (12 missiles). According to some sources, the Su-34 “Fullback” is also capable of carrying one Kh-555, while it is not known if the Tu-22M3 “Backfire” has been fully integrated with the missile, even if it was being tested. The Kh-555 was used during Russian strikes against ISIS ground targets in Syria in 2015.

Russian Bombers Cruise Missile Exercise
A Tu-95MS Bear H takes off for the cruise missile exercise. In the box: The Kh-555 cruise missile being loaded in the Tu-95’s bomb bays. (Photo: Russian Air Force)

“Surge” in military drills.

This is just one of the bombers exercises in what some analysts called a “surge” of Russian Military activity. Another notable one happened a day after the cruise missile exercise, with two Tu-160 Blackjacks performing an eight-hour mission over the Baltic Sea escorted by Su-35Ss of the Aerospace Forces and Su-27s of the Baltic Fleet’s Naval Aviation, supported by an A-50 “Mainstay” Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

In response, NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem (Germany) launched allied fighter aircraft from bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland to intercept and identify the approaching Russian aircraft as some of them were not identifiable by transponder signal and no flight plan had been filed, posing a flight safety hazard for civilian air traffic.

More precisely, NATO specified that the Russian aircraft were intercepted by German and Italian Eurofighter Typhoons from the Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia and Lithuania, respectively, and Polish Air Force F-16Cs fighters from Poznan Air Base. In addition, the Royal Danish Air Force national air operations centre scrambled their F-16s from Skrydstrup Air Base. The bombers stayed in international airspace above the Baltic Sea and returned to mainland Russia after roughly three hours.

These recent bomber missions do not seem to be related to the Russian buildup around Ukraine and Crimea which has caused concern among the international community. Officially, according to the Russian MoD, the buildup is due to scheduled exercises which are taking place in Crimean training ranges and the Black Sea to check the readiness of the Armed Forces.

Numerous armored and air defense units, tactical aircraft and warships have been deployed in the area, under the eyes of cellphones and social medias on the ground and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft in the sky. As always, disinformation and fake news are playing their part to further complicate the understanding of what is happening in the area and what we should expect in the near future.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Watch A Russian Navy Il-38N “Dolphin” Load A Superlarge Sea Bottom Mine For Anti-Submarine Warfare Exercise

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Russian Navy Il-38 lay mines
A formation of Il-38s as seen from the cockpit of another Il-38. In the box, the UDM-2. (Image credit: Russia’s MOD).

For the first time, five Russian Navy Il-38 and Il-38N aircraft have taken part together in an Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise laying sea bottom mines.

Russian Navy Il-38 and Il-38N “Dolphin” (NATO reporting name “May”) Anti-Submarine Warfare and Maritime Patrol Aircraft have recently taken part in an ASW exercise held in the Avacha Bay, a Pacific Ocean bay on the southeastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, in Russia’s Far East.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, as part of the final check of the winter training period, the Russian Navy aircrews carried out a mission whose purpose was to search, detect and track enemy submarines. And, for the first time, during that mission five Il-38s of the Pacific Fleet conducted a group operation, which saw the ASW aircraft lay air-dropped mines to create a barrier against notional enemy subs.

About 50 training mines of various types were dropped during the simulated attack to the simulated underwater target.

Interestingly, the footage released by the Russian MOD shows some of those mines.

The Il-38N or Il-38SD is the improved variant of the baseline Il-38 aircraft. The main difference between the Il-38 (largely based on the original Il-18 airliner) and Il-38N is that the latter is equipped with the Leninets Novella-P-39 and Sea Dragon systems which, according to “Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 2” by Piotr Butowski, integrate several sensors, including a radar for detecting aerial and surface targets; radio sonobuoy system; a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) with a range up to 900m; an EO (Electro-Optical) turret with TV, IR, imaging, laser rangefinder and automatica target tracking; ESM (Electronic Support Measures) with sensors hosted in a circular pattern in a box fairing located over the forward section of the fuselage.

Russia’s Naval Aviation has a huge inventory of air-dropped mines. Since these have a long service life, a number of really old types remain in the inventory. Based on their size and explosive charge, mines can be subdivided into superlarge (UDM-2, DM-1, MDM-5, MDM-1, MDM-6), large (IGDM, AMD-2M, Serpei, UDM, MDM-4) and small (IGDM-500, UDM-500, MDM-3). Among them, mines of the AMD series (Aviationnaya Mina Donnaya, Russian for “aerial bottom mine”) have been developed since WWII. The modernized AMD-2M (500kg and 1000 kg) are among those currently used by the Russian Navy ASW aircraft. The family of UDM (Universalnaya Donnaya Mina – “universal bottom mine”), designated MDM for export, are more recent and have been developed since 1961. The latest is the UDM-2-1500. The large one you can see at the beginning of the clip, appears to be a UDM-2 mine.
The Il-38 carries 8x AMD-2-500M or 4x UDM mines in the two bays in the fuselage, one forward and one aft of the wing’s spar, in the mine-laying role.

Some interesting details about the UDM-2 mine are available through the Rosoboronexport (the state intermediary agency for Russia’s exports/imports of weapons, technologies and services ) website. In the MDM-2 (the export version of the UDM-2) section we can find the following:

MDM-1 mod.1 and MDM-2 mod.1 sea bottom mines are intended for employment in minefields to endanger and destroy ships and surfaced or submerged submarines. MDM-3-mod.1 sea bottom mine is used in defensive minefields to destroy small displacement ships and amphibious assault craft.

The mines are fitted with local three-channel influence exploders activated by target’s acoustic, electromagnetic and hydrodynamic fields sensed in a hemispherical danger zone. The exploders allow the mines to be deployed in both three- and two-channel configurations, with any combination of the channels possible. The mines possess effective anti-sweeping protection from modern influence sweepers and resistance to natural clutter owing to advanced exploder operating principle and anti-sweep device logic, as well as mine timing and ship counting devices employed. Intricate planting patterns and camouflage painting of the mines hinder their detection by sonars of surface ships and submarines, or by mine-hunting devices of remotely operated underwater vehicles.

The mine can be planted from aircraft (airborne platforms) fitted with mine racks and safety actuation and release devices, as well as from surface ships equipped with mine-laying rails and ramps or mine-scattering systems. Mines can be laid by ships sailing at speeds of up to 15 knots, and by aircraft flying at speeds of up to 1,000 km/h from altitudes of not less than 500 m.

The mine is self-destroyed when its service life expires, or if planted on land or shoal from aircraft.”

While the first mine you can see in the video as it is loaded into the Il-38 appears to be a superlarge UDM-2, the one that you can find later in the same clip at the 00:40 mark is a smaller UDM-3.

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 Navy Officer Arrested Over Alleged Spying For Russia. Two Russian Diplomats Expelled From Italy

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Russian Embassy Rome
Russian Embassy in Rome. (Image credit: TASS)

An Italy Navy officer caught passing classified documents to Russian diplomats for money during clandestine meeting in Rome. It’s the most serious spying episode since the end of Cold War.

An Italian Navy officer, Capitano di Fregata (Captain of Frigate – Italian Navy rank equivalent to Lt. Col.) Walter Biot, working at Italy’s Stato Maggiore Difesa (Defense Staff) in Rome, was arrested in an alleged spying episode: according to the Italian authorities, he was caught passing documents to a military official accredited at the Russian Embassy in Rome.

Police intervened after the Italian officer had transferred a pen drive to the Russian military, in exchange for a sum money, during a “clandestine meeting” in Rome, held on the night on Tuesday Mar. 30, 2021. Italian media have reported that the sum the Italian Navy officer was paid was 5,000 Euro.

As a consequence of the spy scandal, Italy ordered the expulsion of two Russian diplomats: the military official involved in the meeting (that was initially detained) and another one involved in the affair, whose role has not been clarified yet. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement on Facebook that Italy had lodged a formal protest with the Russian ambassador and notified him of “the immediate expulsion of the two Russian officials involved in this very serious affair.”

No other detail about the kind of documents the Italian officer passed to the Russians has been released, however, later on Wednesday, some more details about Captain Walter Biot have been unveiled by the Corriere della Sera newspaper. According to the Italian media outlet, he had the role of assigning a security level to the documents of the Defense Staff. All confidential and classified documents passed through his office, including those from NATO. To Russia, Biot could therefore have sold papers on planning international missions, including crisis support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some analysts said that the documents the Italian officer was trying to give the Russians were not so important considered the relatively small sum of money (5,000 Euro = 5,860 USD) paid for them; however, it is unclear how the money were transferred and the sum might have been low so that it could be more easily hidden.

While we don’t really know what documents the Russians were looking for, the episode is quite remarkable as it proves Moscow is still quite active in NATO countries, including Italy, that is one of those nations with the best diplomatic ties with Russia and where most of people and some political forces do not see Russia as an “enemy”. Maybe this “friendly” scenario even favored the spy affair.. Whatever, it’s clear that we are living a new Cold War, with Russia actively spying on Italy and other NATO nations; a “Cold War 2.0” that along with “traditional” spies, HUMINT (Human Intelligence), is also waged in the air, with flights of bombers, fighters and spyplanes along the borders of NATO airspace as we reported yesterday.

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.

[Updated] Ejection Seats Activation During Preflight Operations On Russian Tu-22M3 Bomber Kills Three Crew Members

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File photo of a Russian Tu-22 Backfire taxiing during AVIADART 2018 exercise (Image credit: Giovanni Colla)

The incident occurred as the Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 prepared for a mission at Shaikovka airfield, near Kaluga, Russia.

Three crew members perished in an incident that occurred on Mar. 23, 2021, as the aircrew of a Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 bomber, most probably belonging to the 52nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment, was preparing for take off at Shaikovka, a base located near Kaluga Oblast, in western Russia.

According to the information released by the Russian Defense Ministry, for reasons yet to be determined, crew were ejected during the preflight operations.

Three of them received fatal injuries, as their parachutes did not deploy in time: “The altitude was too low for the parachutes to work, and three crew members have received fatal injuries when they landed,” the Russian MOD said in a statement. Although not mentioned in the official Russia MOD release, according to a source in the medical community of the region who talked to TASS News Agency, one of the crew members survived. He’s currently in the infirmary of the medical unit in Shaikovka. In fact, based on the latest updates, the forced ejection cause three crew members to be ejected according to the standard scheme as the commander of the aircraft, sitting on the left hand seat, leaves the plane on his own. In this case, he did not leave the aircraft.

An alleged preliminary report, possibly leaked online, was posted at the Aviaforum site. Here’s an excerpt translated from Russian:

In preparation for the training flight, after launching the APU and working with the cockpit equipment, Captain, who is the deputy squadron commander, switched on all CB (Circuit Breakers) on the CB panel with the lever of the console.

At the same time, the system of forced departure of the crew was triggered according to the standard scheme (the commander of the aircraft leaves the plane on his own). When the forced exit system was triggered, four canopy door were dropped and three crew members were ejected. The mechanisms of the ejection seats worked normally, the separation of the crew members and the launching of the rescue parachutes took place normally, but due to the lack of conditions for safely leaving the aircraft (speed less than 130 km / h), the parachutes were not filled.

Three crew members were fatally injured when they fell onto the concrete surface of the aircraft parking lot at high vertical speed. Chairs KT-1M. KT-1M is an ejection seat developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau. Currently installed on Tu-22M3 and Tu-22MR aircraft.

Ejection is carried out in the following sequence: operator, navigator, right pilot, commander. Both individual and forced ejection are possible. Forced ejection of the crew is performed by the commander, for which it is enough to lift the cap and turn on the “Forced exit” toggle switch on the left side of the cockpit.

At the same time, a red banner “Forced Leaving” lights up at each workplace and the EMRV-27B-1 time relay is switched on for the seats of the right pilot, navigator-navigator and navigator-operator, which are set for a time corresponding to 3.6 s, 1.8 s , 0.3 s.

After 0.3 s, the time relays trigger the EK-69 pneumatic system solenoid valve on the navigator-operator’s seat, while the “Readiness” system is triggered on the seat (triggering the arms and legs scatter limiters and tightening the harness) and pressing the limit switch for resetting the lantern cover.

When the “Readiness” system is triggered, the ACh-1,2 temporary automatic machine is activated on the seat, which after 1 s pulls out the combat pin of the firing mechanism.

Among the crew members who died in the incident there was also the regiment commander, Colonel Vadim Beloslyudtsev, who was pilot-instructor on the planned flight.

Russian Air Force Tu-22M3
File photo of a Tu-22M3 Backfire. (Reader’s submission)

The Tu-22M3’s crew consists of four members. Two pilots seated side-by-side in front (pilot on the left and co-pilot on the right) and the navigator (right) and weapons system officer (left) seated to their rear. All crew members have KT-1M (Kreslo Tupoleva, “Tupolev’s seat”) ejection seats connected within the ASS (automatic rescue system). A minimum speed of 130km/h (81 mph) is required for safe ejection at altitudes below 60m (200ft) according to “Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 2”, by Piotr Butowski (although our sources state that 140km/h is the minimum speed).

The Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 is a twin-engine supersonic bomber with variable geometry swept wings. The Tu-22M3 and M3M variants are in wide service in Russia, with over 80 reported in flying with the Russian Air Force and more than 40 in use with Russian Naval Aviation as long-range maritime patrol, surveillance and attack aircraft. Indeed, the aircraft was primarily developed as an anti-ship missile carrier for the Soviet/Russian supersonic Kh-22/32 anti-ship missiles with range of up to 1,000 km (621 miles) as well as for smaller Kh-15 missiles with range of up to 300 km (160 miles).

The latest deadly incident involving a Tu-22 occurred on Jan. 22, 2019, when three crew members were killed when the Backfire attempted to land in bad weather at the airfield in Olenegorsk (Murmansk region); a crash that was also caught on camera.

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.

With Moscow Leaving Open Skies Treaty, Russia’s Tu-214ON Flies New Domestic Observation Mission Around Crimea

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Tupolev Tu-214ON (Image credit: Oleg V. Belyakov – AirTeamImages/Wiki). In the box: the route followed on Mar. 4, 2021 (Image credit: Flightradar24.com)

One of the Tu-214ON aircraft used for Open Skies observations carried out a different type of surveillance mission near Crimea at the beginning of this month.

The Tu-214ON (Otkrytoye Niebo – Open Skies) is a highly modified Tu-214 airliner equipped with advanced photo and electronic sensors to perform Open Skies Treaty surveillance missions.

The Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002, 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.

In November 2020, the U.S. announced the withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, on the basis of the alleged repeated Russian violations of the treaty, as the refusal to allow access to observation flights within a 10 km corridor along the country’s border with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as restrictions placed on using airfields in Crimea.

The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in November 2020 “destroyed the balance of interests of the State-Parties reached when the Treaty was signed, inflicted a severe damage to its functioning, and undermined the role of the Open Skies Treaty as a confidence and security building measure,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Jan. 15, 2021. For this reason, Russia announced it also started the domestic procedure to withdraw from the treaty, although Moscow clarified it could reverse the decision if the United States returned to the agreement.

While such exit procedure should be completed by this summer, it looks like the two Tu-214ON with registrations RF-64519 (ex RA-64519) and RF-64525 (ex RA-64525) used for treaty observation missions, have already started flying a different kind of reconnaissance mission, to monitor the security of Russia’s military facilities.

According to the Russian State outlet RIA Novosti, at the beginning of the month, one of the Tu-214ON aircraft checked the camouflage of military facilities on the coasts of Crimea and Krasnodar, and also tested the capabilities of the air defense system of these regions.

Indeed, on Mar. 4, 2021, RF-64519, departed from Taganrog airfield, in southwest Russia (home to the Taganrog Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex) and flew a reconnaissance path along the coasts of Krasnodar and Crimea. Its mission was to check the camouflage and security of the military facilities and units located there, including the naval bases in Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. It looks like the Tu-214ON was also used to test the ability of the regional air defense system to detect air targets in a passive location mode.

Based on the track recorded by Flightradar24.com, the mission lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes. The aircraft operated at 300kts and 9,800 feet.

The route of the Tu-214 on Mar. 4, 2021. (Image credit: FR24.com)

The Tu-214ON was designed as an open architecture, meaning that it can accommodate different sensor packages. For instance, according to Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 1 by Piotr Butowski, the Tu-214ON can carry 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 vertical and two oblique cameras; and a TV camera suite (one vertical and two oblique cameras). For the initial Open Skies missions, the aircraft carried the digital electro-optical sensor OSDCAM4060, the same as the An-30B and Tu-154M LK-1 (the previous types used for treaty sorties).

Therefore, unless the decision to leave the treaty is reversed, the Tu-214ON will probably be used to check the maskirovka (camouflage/masking) of military installations and units, so that they can train to hide from enemy surveillance assets. Sounds interesting. We will provide additional details as they become available.

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.
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