Tag: Russian Air Force

First Completely New Russian Tu-160M Bomber Makes First Flight

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The first newly built Tu-160M during its maiden flight on Jan. 12, 2022. (Image credit: UAC)

The brand new Tupolev Tu-160M ‘White Swan’ strategic missile-carrying bomber performed its debut flight.

A completely new Tupolev Tu-160M bomber performed its debut flight on Jan. 12, 2022, the Press Office of the state tech corporation Rostec announced.

“On January 12, the first newly-built Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bomber performed its debut flight from the aerodrome of the Kazan Aviation Enterprise, a subsidiary of the Tupolev Company [part of the United Aircraft Corporation within Rostec], on January 12,” the press office said.

The maiden flight of the “White Swan” (as the Tu-160 is nicknamed by the Russian pilots) lasted about 30 minutes and saw the bomber fly at 600 and conduct maneuvers used to inspect the aircraft’s stable and controlled operations in the air.

The Tupolev Tu-160 is a supersonic strategic missile-carrier with a variable sweep wing. The decision to resume the production of the upgraded version of the Tu-160, the Tu-160M, was made in 2015.

As a consequence, two existing Tu-160s were upgraded to the Tu-160M ​​standard under a contract with the Ministry of Defense. Overall, 15 airframes should be upgraded. The aircraft that first flew on Jan. 12, 2022 is the first newly build airframe under a contract with the Ministry of Industry and Trade out of ten advanced aircraft which will be produced for the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The new version, includes a glass cockpit, weapons upgrades, new engines and the removal of obsolete equipment no longer relevant to the Tu-160’s mission. According to the CEO of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Yury Slyusar, the new aircraft has 80% of its systems and equipment upgraded. The original Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” first flew in 1981 and entered service in 1987.

The first flight of the first deeply modified Tu-160 (designated Tu-160M2), built from backlog airframe took place on Feb. 2, 2020 and lasted 2 hours and 34 minutes.

On Nov. 3, 2020, the first “fundamentally upgraded strategic bomber” flew from Kazan, Russia, powered by the new NK-32-02 engines . The United Aircraft Corporation said that during the flight the upgraded general systems and onboard radio-electronic equipment were tested and the performance of the new engine NK-32 of the 02 series assessed.

At the moment, we can’t but notice that the new Tu-160 is often referred to as Tu-160M and M2. If any, the difference between M and M2 variants is not clear.

A big Thank You to our friend Alex Snow for helping us with some details of this story!

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - First Completely New Russian Tu-160M Bomber Makes First Flight
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 five books and contributed to many more ones.

Polish Air Force F-16s Carry Out First Intercept during ‘PKW Orlik 10’ Baltic Air Policing Rotation

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Polish Air Force F-16s Carry Out First Intercept during ‘PKW Orlik 10’ Baltic Air Policing Rotation
The Russian Il-20 intercepted by the Polish Air Force over the Baltic. (Image Credit: Polish Air Force/NATO Aircom)

The Polish Vipers have intercepted a Russian Il-20 spyplane over the Baltic.

The Polish Air Force has carried out its first intercept during the current Baltic Air Policing rotation, involving the F-16 “Jastrząb” aircraft. The aircraft intercepted by the Polish Vipers was a Russian Il-20 Coot platform. According to the information released by the Air Force, the intercept was made during a routine training sortie (referred to as Tango Scramble), on Dec. 7, 2021. The sortie turned into an Alpha Scramble, when the jets were redirected to identify an unidentified aircraft that was then IDed as an Il-20M ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) aircraft.

“This was the first Alpha Scramble for Polish detachment, called “Orlik 10‘, and it was an excellent opportunity to confirm the uniformity of procedures, detachment’s operational readiness and its interoperability with other NATO components”, said Polish Detachment Commander Lt Col Paweł Stajniak.

As the Russians did not file in a flight plan and did not make contact with the ATC, an intercept was required. The intruder was first escorted by the Poles, and then it was taken over by the Belgian Air Component’s F-16s stationed in Ämari, Estonia.

- Polish Air Force F-16s Carry Out First Intercept during ‘PKW Orlik 10’ Baltic Air Policing RotationFile photo of a Polish Air Force F-16, assigned to the 32nd Tactical Air Base, taking off at Łask Air Base, Poland, August 20, 2020. (Image credit: USAF)

“The mission was successfully conducted in accordance with Baltic Air Policing rules of engagement and other pertaining regulations” said Polish Detachment Commander Lt Col Paweł Stajniak.

The PKW Orlik 10 deployment began on Dec. 1, 2021. The Polish detachment is formed by around 150 soldiers, most of whom come from the Poznan-Krzesiny 31st Tactical Airbase. Polish assets are stationed at Siaullai, and this is the third BAP rotation for the Polish Vipers. Previously the Polish Air Force had been deploying its MiG-29 Fulcrums to the area.

The first Polish BAP rotation took place back in 2006.

40aa3850968f2c63b0e4b54329814324?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Polish Air Force F-16s Carry Out First Intercept during ‘PKW Orlik 10’ Baltic Air Policing Rotation
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of DefensePhoto.com. Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.

Listen To The Russian Su-57 Felon’s Distinctive ‘Creepy’ Sound

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Su-57 flyby (Screenshot from the video embedded in the article)

The Sukhoi Su-57’s engines generate a peculiar noise; a sort of “howl”.

We have already talked about the peculiar engine sound of the Su-57 Felon, Russia’s 5th generation aircraft earlier this year, commenting a video of a low level flyby of four jets.

The engine that generates that creepy high-pitched ringing noise is the NPO Saturn AL-41F-1, derived from the one used by the Su-35. It’s an interim variable-bypass ratio turbofan engine rated at approximately 88.3KN (19,842 lb st) of dry thrust and 142.2kN (31,967 lb st) with afterburning.

A few more videos filmed during the 2021 Victory Parade over Moscow have circulated online. You’ll probably find a few more ones around, but the following two are extremely cool and worth being posted.

Here’s what we wrote about the current engine and the program to replace it:

As reported in detail in a previous article, the current AL-41F-1 engine, considered underpowered for the aircraft, is only an interim power plant until the final engine is ready. The latter, known as Izdeliye 30 (literally Product 30) will be supposedly more efficient than previous designs, giving to the jet a top speed in excess of Mach 2 and a supercruise capability at Mach 1.3, and features 3d thrust vectoring. The Izdeliye 30 begun flight testing in 2017 and is expected to be ready by 2025. This means that serial production of the Su-57 may have to keep using the AL-51F-1 for the first examples and retrofit them when the new engine becomes available. The S-duct air inlet doesn’t cover the entire engine face, as done for the F-22 and F-35; the problem is mitigated by the air intake screen (which then have a double function other than FOD prevention) and a radar blocker in front of the engine fan, similar to the one used by the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

A new engine was specifically developed for the Su-57, known as Izdeliye 30 (literally Product 30), but, since the engine is not yet ready for production and tested only on an earlier prototype, T-50S-2 is still using the Saturn AL-41F-1. Production of the Product 30 engine should begin in 2022, with the first serial deliveries of the Product 30-equipped Su-57 in 2023. Dealing with the engine, the Felon was recently showcased in a video for the 100th anniversary of the Chkalov State Flight Test Center, where the radar blockers in the engines’ air intakes were allegedly exposed for the first time.  The Su-57 uses a S-duct air inlet which does not cover the entire engine faces, as done for the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II, leaving it exposed to radar signal reflection. The problem was said to be mitigated by a radar blocker that, however, was never clearly seen on any of the 11 prototypes or the first two serial aircraft.

More recently, Russian State Agency TASS reported that an upgraded and modernized version of the Su-57 is to begin serial production as of 2025 and among the improvements, there will be the incorporation of the Izdeliye 30 engine along with the upgrade of the cockpit, to unify the production of the Su-57 and the Su-75 Checkmate that, along with the same engine, will have an identical cockpit layout as the one of the Felon.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Listen To The Russian Su-57 Felon’s Distinctive ‘Creepy’ Sound
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.

Two Russian Tu-160 Bombers Escorted By Flankers Intercepted By Italian Typhoons, Danish F-16s Over The Baltic Sea

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Two Russian Tu-160 Bombers Escorted By Flankers Intercepted By Italian Typhoons, Danish F-16s Over The Baltic Sea
Some screenshots from the Russian MOD video show the Tu-160s, accompanying Su-35S and an Italian Eurofighter Typhoon. In the bottom left hand box, a screenshot from FR24.com.

Two Tu-160s have flown over the Baltic region. NATO, Finnish and Swedish fighters shadowed the Russian Blackjacks which were escorted by Su-35s.

Two Russian Aerospace Forces Tu-160 Blackjacks carried out an 8-hour mission that brought the bombers off the Baltic States on Sept. 21, 2021. According to the Russian MOD, the two strategic missile carriers performed a planned flight in airspace over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea.

The 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 mission.

As happened last time the Tu-160s from Engels-2 Air Base in Saratov, Oblast, southwestern Russia, the Russian Long Range Aviation (LRA) trip in the Baltic region caused several NATO, Finnish and Swedish aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) to support Baltic Air Policing (BAP) to scramble.

The video released by the Russian MOD shows some of the fighters that were dispatched to identify and shadow the Russian “package” as it operated in international airspace: you can clearly see an Italian Air Force Typhoon currently deployed to Amari for Baltic Eagle II where they replaced the F-35As (the Russian MOD press release did mention the Italian fighters but misidentified them as F-16s) and Royal Danish Air Force F-16s. Finnish Air Force F-18s and Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripens were also launched and intercepted the Tu-160s.

Interestingly, at least one Su-35S made an appearance on Flightradar24.com, marking (to our knowledge), the very first time a Russian Flanker could be tracked online.

The Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack, is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber in use and the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane ever flown. Its first flight dates back to 1981 and its induction into active service took place in 1987.

The Tu-160 took part in the Air War in the skies over Syria; at least one Tu-160 aircraft flew a strike mission on Nov. 17, 2015 that hit ISIL targets in Syria using Russian 3M-54 Kalibur cruise missiles launched at standoff range. As of 2016, the Russian Air Force’s LRA still had 16 aircraft in service. In other words it’s a rare bird.

The Russians are already working on its replacement. The new Tu-160M2s are not be rebuilt, upgraded existing Tu-160s, but rather new production aircraft coming from the Tupolev plant. The new Tu-160M2 version, includes a glass cockpit, weapons upgrades, new engines and the removal of obsolete equipment no longer relevant to the Tu-160’s mission. The first flight of the first Tu-160M2 took place on Feb. 2, 2020 and lasted 2 hours and 34 minutes.  The second Tu-160M, equipped with new engines NK-32 series 02 (NK-32-02), made its maiden flight a few days ago, on Sept. 17, 2021.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Two Russian Tu-160 Bombers Escorted By Flankers Intercepted By Italian Typhoons, Danish F-16s Over The Baltic Sea
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.

Russia To Build Prototype Of Its New ‘Checkmate’ Light Tactical Fighter for Static Tests

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Russia To Build Prototype Of Its New ‘Checkmate’ Light Tactical Fighter for Static Tests
The Su-75 mock up at MAKS 2021 (All images: Alex Snow)

A prototype of the Su-75 Checkmate is going to be assembled for static tests.

Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant (KnAAPO or KnAAZ; Russian: Комсомольский-на-Амуре авиационный завод) will build a prototype of the Checkmate fighter, destined for static tests, the Russian aviation21.ru outlet reports. According to the news piece published by the aviation21.ru website, and quoting Interfax, the Checkmate would be assembled at the KnAAZ facility, belonging to Sukhoi. The company is currently working on the assembly of a prototype destined for static tests.

Russian PM, Mikhail Mishustin is currently visiting the Far East of Russia, and information released in relation to his visit at KnAAZ – as aviation21.ru reports – suggests that the static tests prototype assembly is currently underway. The Russian outlet also claims that the information available suggests that the first demonstrator was assembled at KnAAZ as well. KnAAZ is currently engaged in primary Russian fighter projects, manufacturing the Su-57 and Su-35S airframes. The airframe showcased at MAKS was then most probably a mock-up. We can say so, considering the fact that the Russian industry has only started, according to the Russian media, to work on the static tests prototype. It is usually the first airframe that takes shape before the aircraft destined for flying is actually built.

- Russia To Build Prototype Of Its New ‘Checkmate’ Light Tactical Fighter for Static TestsThe Checkmate mockup at MAKS 2021.

The Sukhoi Checkmate (referred to as the Su-75 – although this is still not an official designation yet) was unveiled on Jul. 20, 2021, during the MAKS 2021 airshow in Moscow. The prototype is to make its maiden flight in 2023, while series manufacturing and deliveries have been scheduled to begin in 2026. The Su-75 would complement the Su-57 in the Russian Air Force. Sukhoi claims a two-seat and an unmanned variant will be produced too.

- Russia To Build Prototype Of Its New ‘Checkmate’ Light Tactical Fighter for Static TestsSu-57 Felon takes off during MAKS 2021.

Aviation21.ru also provides some interesting information on the planned production of the jet: 300 airframes are expected to be delivered over the next 15 years. The Russian outlet additionally makes a direct claim that the new Sukhoi’s design would compete with the F-35 Lightning II, and the “low cost” JAS-39 Gripen. The export sales seem to be the main focus here, which is proven by the marketing strategy adopted by Sukhoi for its new aircraft as we have already noted in our previous reports on the Su-75 premiere.

40aa3850968f2c63b0e4b54329814324?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Russia To Build Prototype Of Its New ‘Checkmate’ Light Tactical Fighter for Static Tests
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of DefensePhoto.com. Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.

NATO Fighters Intercepted Two Rare Russian Il-22PP ‘Mute’ EW Aircraft Over The Baltics For The Very First Time

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - NATO Fighters Intercepted Two Rare Russian Il-22PP ‘Mute’ EW Aircraft Over The Baltics For The Very First Time
A file photo of the Il-22PP Mute. (All images: Alex Snow)

The Il-22PP Special Mission Aircraft were intercepted over the Baltic Sea for the very first time.

Some pretty interesting close encounters between NATO fighters supporting BAP (Baltic Air Policing) mission and Russian aircraft flying in international airspace close to the airspace of the Baltic States took place on Jul. 29, 2021: overall, two Il-22PP “Mute” Electronic Warfare Aircraft, one Su-24 Fencer and an Il-76 Candid transport were tracked, intercepted and identified in the same area as they were on their way to Russia from Kaliningrad Oblast.

According to NATO, NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem in Germany launched the allied fighter aircraft to intercept and identify them. The Russian aircraft did not have flight plans nor transmit transponder codes, and thus posed a potential risk to civilian flights.

The intercept mission was carried out by Spanish Air Force Eurofighters and Italian Air Force F-35s, both on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty in the Baltic region.

Noteworthy, it was the very first time NATO intercepted the Il-22PP Porubshchik (NATO designation “Mute”) in that region. The “electronic escort” aircraft made its first appearance in 2017, during the celebrations of the 105th anniversary of the Russian air force over Kubinka. According to Piotr Butowski, the aircraft is a SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) and stand-off jamming platform, based on a converted Il-22 “Coot-B” aircraft (a command post and radio relay aircraft based on the Il-18D airliner).

According to Mikhail Khodorenok, a retired colonel and military analyst of the Gazeta.ru online newspaper, the Il-22PP was a necessity for the military when no other options were available:

“At one time, a few more options were considered: AN-140 and AN-158 planes with turbojet engines as well as the Tu-214,” he told RBTH. “However, at the time of the formation of the ‘defense procurement’ in 2009, none of these models were not yet fully ready to be equipped with the latest electronic warfare [EW] systems.”

“Of course, this is not an ideal solution,” he added, explaining why the new weapon has been placed on a “trusty old horse.” “However, for lack of a better option, a choice had to be made – either to stay without the EW aircraft, or to mount the equipment on the tested wings.”

While it might be a gap filler until  it is replaced by a more modern aircraft in the future, the Il-22PP aircraft (also nicknamed “Fridge” by the Russians – because it’s large and white..), is equipped with antennas so that it scans radio signals in the area of its activity and selectively jam those on which enemy aircraft, drones or air defense systems work.

- NATO Fighters Intercepted Two Rare Russian Il-22PP ‘Mute’ EW Aircraft Over The Baltics For The Very First TimeAnother image of the Il-22P. Note all the bulges of this special mission aircraft.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - NATO Fighters Intercepted Two Rare Russian Il-22PP ‘Mute’ EW Aircraft Over The Baltics For The Very First Time
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 Conducts ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) In Black Sea

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - NATO Conducts ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) In Black Sea
A C-27J was intercepted today, 2nd July 2021, as part of a NATO multinational joint training activity to show NATO’s ability to integrate different Allied assets in the air and at sea.
F-16’s from Romanian Air Force and Hellenic Air Force took part in the NATO led Air Defence Exercise intercepting the Romanian C-27 whilst it transited from Otopeni Air Base to Mihail Kogălniceanu air base. (Image courtesy of RAF via NATO Allied Air Command)

NATO holds an ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) in the Black Sea region, where tension with Russia has increased following the recent close encounters between Russian fighters and NATO warships.

On Jul. 2, 2021, NATO Air and Maritime forces conducted an ADEX in the Black Sea area, “to improve Alliance cooperation, practise air-maritime communications and build stronger relationships between Allies.” 

Several fighters assets from the Greek, Romanian and Turkish air forces, a NATO AWACS, a Romanian C-27 transport aircraft, a Turkish Military Patrol Aircraft and three Allied frigates from the Standing Naval Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), Italian Navy flagship Fasan, the Romanian Navy Regina Maria and the Turkish Navy Barbaros took part in the ADEX. SNMG 2 forces are transiting across the Black Sea and will take part in Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 after the ADEX. The German and British Eurofighters deployed to Mihail Kogalniceanu, Constanta, for NATO Enhanced Air Policing were initially scheduled to take part in the training but their sorties were cancelled because of bad weather.

GAF Eurofighters at Costanta - NATO Conducts ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) In Black Sea
A German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon landed at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base after a NATO Tango Scramble. (Image courtesy of NATO Allied Air Command)

The maritime game plan clearly replicated the scenario that saw Russian warplanes fly close to a British destroyer and simulate multiple attacks on a Dutch frigate. However, according to NATO, the organization of the drills took “some weeks”, suggesting that the exercise was not arrange in direct response to the Russian activity in the Black Sea.

HAF courtesy RoAF - NATO Conducts ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) In Black Sea
Hellenic Air Force F-16 (Image credit: Romanian Air Force)

While initially Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters simulated attacks on the NATO ships which trained defence drills against these attacks, the Greek and Romanian F-16s, in a separate event, conducted similar training maneuvers with the Greek fighters attacking the ships which responded in a joint manner with the Romanian fighters. Subsequently, the Greek and Romanian fighters conduct aerial combat drills.

This exercise shows how Allies use unique opportunities to train multiple Allied forces in a multi-domain environment. By exercising in international waters and airspace just off the Romanian coast, NATO is able to further develop our operational tactics and refine airspace coordination with our Black Sea Allies. Allied Air Command experts in cooperation with the Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejón, Allied Maritime Command and the participating nations planned the event over a number of weeks.

“Overall the air-maritime integration training demonstrates NATO’s capabilities, readiness and resolve to protect Allied populations; with our ships and aircraft peacefully operating off the Romanian coast we also assure the Allies in the region,” said Allied Air Command Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Andrew Hansen. “Our jets are unarmed to enable maximum training benefit and allowing for interoperability among the four Allies’ fighters,” he added.

“We have clear command and control arrangements and strict rules of engagement in place that every participant knows. These ensure that we conduct the training in a responsible and de-escalatory manner while still showing a credible and ready presence of NATO assets in the region,” said Combined Air Operations Centre Torrejon Commander, Lieutenant General Fernando de la Cruz.

For the moment, we have not heard about any Russian reaction (i.e. flying activity in the vicinity of the drills) to the NATO ADEX. We will update the story if some interesting detail emerges in the next hours/days.

C 27 Spartan intercept - NATO Conducts ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) In Black Sea
Romanian C-27 escorted by Romanian and Hellenic Air Force F-16s. (Image credit: HAF)

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - NATO Conducts ADEX (Air Defense Exercise) In Black Sea
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.

F-35B From British Aircraft Carrier Had A Close Encounter With A Russian Navy Warship In The Eastern Med Sea

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - F-35B From British Aircraft Carrier Had A Close Encounter With A Russian Navy Warship In The Eastern Med Sea
The NOTAM that announced the Russian naval activity in the eastern Med. In the screenshots, the F-35B that flew close to the Russian group and two Tu-22M3 bombers (via Russian MOD).

A Russian exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, involving five warships as well as Tu- 142MK, Il-38, Tu-22M3 and MiG-31K aircraft, provided an opportunity for a close encounter with at least one F-35B operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Russian Aerospace Forces have kicked off an exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Jun. 25, 2021. As the Russian MOD announced in a public statement, five ships of the Russian Navy (the Moskva missile cruiser; the Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov frigates, as well as two submarines, the Stary Oskol and Rostov-on-Don), together with Tu-142MK and Il-38 anti-submarine aircraft, Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers and MiG-31K aircraft are involved in the exercise, whose goal is to train combat forces to ensure the security of two key Russian bases in Syria: Khmeimim airbase and Tartus.

At least two MiG-31K, an Il-38 ASW aircraft, and three Tu-22M3 bombers have arrived at Kheimim airfield in Syria, whose capabilities have been expanded with the extension of the runway and the completion of a second runway. These works, completed in May, have allowed Moscow to deploy its LRA (Long Range Aviation) bombers along with the missile-carrier aircraft to the airbase on the Mediterranean Sea and launch missions from there.

The Russian MOD told reporters on Jun. 28 that the MiG-31K armed with the air-launched Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile and Tu-22M3 bombers performed training flights escorted by Su-35 and Su-34 aircraft during the eastern Med drills.

“As part of the joint exercise, the crews of MiG-31K aircraft, capable of using the latest hypersonic missiles from the Kinzhal missile, and long-range Tu-22M3 bombers made regular training flights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, during which they completed the tasks of mastering the air space in maritime zone”, said the Defense Ministry. Some simulated missile launches were carried out by the MiG-31s using the Kinzhal missile during exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, according to Interfax.

For some context, here’s what we wrote when the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted the first successful test firing of the Kinzhal in 2018:

Kinzhal is claimed to be a strategic air-to-surface strike missile. The missile is claimed to have maneuverable flight characteristics not typically seen in hypersonic, solid fuel missiles. Observers of Russian missile programs have voiced skepticism about Russia’ performance claims however. According to Russians and reference sources the Kinzhal missile has a top speed of Mach 10 and maintains some ability to maneuver throughout its performance envelope including at hypersonic speed. If accurate, these capabilities could make the Kinzhal difficult to intercept by anti-missile systems. The missile is reported to have a range of 1,200 miles (approximately 2,000 kilometers). This, added to the reported 1,860-mile unrefueled range of the MiG-31BM long range, supersonic interceptor, gives the Kinzhal potentially intercontinental strike capability. The missile is also reported to be nuclear-capable and able to hit ground as well as naval targets.

Footage released by the Russian MOD provides also some additional details. First of all, the Tu-22M3 flew with Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missiles in the video. Indeed, the Backfire 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).

Interestingly, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently reportedly operating in the Med Sea, south of Cyprus. It seems quite likely that the Russian aircraft have carried out already (or will, in the next days) perform some simulated attack on the British aircraft carrier and her strike group. For sure, the proximity between the has already provided an opportunity for a close encounter, as proved by a video, also released on Jun. 28, showing an F-35B from HMS QE flying near Russian Admiral Makarov frigate.

As already explained, on her maiden operational deployment (dubbed CSG-21), HMS Queen Elizabeth, with F-35B jets belonging to both the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, is heading to the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. However, as planned, before reaching the troubled waters of the South China Sea, the British aircraft carrier will supporting counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria. During her stay in the Med, it’s quite likely the Russians will keep an eye on the British aircraft carrier group and viceversa.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - F-35B From British Aircraft Carrier Had A Close Encounter With A Russian Navy Warship In The Eastern Med Sea
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.

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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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Two Russian Tu-160s And Four Flankers Intercepted By Italian F-35s, Danish F-16s and Swedish Gripens Over The Baltic
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.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Two Russian Tu-160s And Four Flankers Intercepted By Italian F-35s, Danish F-16s and Swedish Gripens Over The Baltic
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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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Russian Su-30SM and Italian F-35As Had Their First Close Encounter Over The Baltic Sea
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.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Russian Su-30SM and Italian F-35As Had Their First Close Encounter Over The Baltic Sea
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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