Tag: Troubled Areas

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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.

Libyan Coast Guard Shoots At Two Italian Fishing Boats: Italian Frigate And P-72A Surveillance Plane On The Scene

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P-72A Libya
A P-72A of the Italian Air Force (Image credit: Italian Air Force). In the right box the Libeccio frigate (Image credit: Italian Navy). In the left box: AIS situation off Libya (Image credit: MarineTraffic.com)

The Italian Navy and Air Force intervened in international waters off Libya after a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat shot at Italian fishing boats.

Two Italian fishing boats were involved in an incident about 30 miles off Libya on May 6, 2021. Warning shots were fired at the Aliseo and Artemide fishing boats, in international waters, off Misrata by a Libyan Coast Guard patrol vessel: the commander of one of the two fishing boats was injured, the Italian media reported.

The Libeccio frigate of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare), supporting “Operazione Mare Sicuro” (Italian for “Safe Sea”) in the Mediterranean Sea was dispatched to assist the fishing boats. Operation “Mare Sicuro” was established in 2015, is a mission of the Italian Navy aimed at ensuring maritime security in the Central Mediterranean Sea – an area of major national interest – launched following the worsening of the Libyan crisis in order to provide presence, surveillance and maritime security, and to ensure freedom of navigation, according to national legislation and international agreements in force.

According to the Italian Navy, the Libeccio frigate was instructed to assist a group of three fishing boats (Artemide, Aliseo and Nuovo Cosimo) which were conducting fishing activities in the waters of Tripolitania,  within the “high risk” zone defined by the Interministerial Coordination Committee for Safety of Transport and Infrastructure  located 35 nautical miles from the Libyan coast, north of the city of Al Khums.

The intervention of the Italian Navy warship was requested due to the presence of a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat rapidly approaching the Italian fishing boats.

Nave Libeccio, which at the time of the report was about 60 miles from the scene, headed towards the fishing boats at maximum speed and sent the helicopter, which reached the area and made radio contact with the patrol boat personnel.

The Libeccio frigate, which arrived in the vicinity of the fishing boats, received news of the presence of a seaman aboard Aliseo who was wounded in the arm.

Currently the fishing boats Artemide and Nuovo Cosimo are safely sailing northbound towards Mazara del Vallo harbour. The Libeccio frigate remained in support of the Aliseo fishing boat as the commander had been transhipped by Libyan personnel on board the patrol boat for medical checks and later released. The Aliseo fishing boat is currently free.

The P-72A

To verify the situation, a P-72A MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) was also dispatched to the area: the aircraft observed some warning shots from the Libyan patrol boat.

The aircraft, that operates a mixed Air Force/Navy crew, belongs to the 41° Stormo (Wing) an Italian Air Force unit based at Sigonella Air Base, in Sicily. The P-72A is a military variant of the ATR 72-600. The Italian Air Force has received four P-72s that the service has used to replace the Breguet BR1150 Atlantic.

The P-72A can undertake a variety of roles ranging from maritime patrol for the search and identification of surface vessels, SAR (search and rescue) missions, the prevention of narcotics trafficking, piracy, smuggling, territorial water security and monitoring and intervention in the event of environmental catastrophes. The P-72A is equipped with a communication suite that enables the aircraft to transmit or receive information in real-time to/from command and control centres either on the ground, in the air or at-sea, to ensure coordinated and effective operations. The aircraft is also equipped with a self-protection system. The aircraft is said to be able to fly missions lasting six and a half hours at ranges up to 200 nautical miles from its starting location.

P-72A Libya
The Atlantic and the P-72 flew alongside during the very last flight of the Atlantic, from Sigonella to Pratica di Mare on Nov. 22, 2017. (Image credit: Italian Air Force)

Previous incidents

The firing of warning shots at the Italian fishing boats is just the latest in a series of incidents in the troubled waters located within the ZPP (Zona Protezione Pesca – Fishing Protection Zone) unilaterally declared by Libya in 2005 with the intention of exercising sovereign rights over fishing resources.

Last year, the Antartide and Medinea fishing boats, were seized with eighteen seafarers on board and remained in Libya for 108 days before being able to return home on Dec. 20, 2020.

A few days ago, in the same area, the Italian Navy FREEM frigate Alpino was dispatched to protect a group of 7 fishing boats threatened by a rubber dinghy, coming from Cirenaica. The attempted seizure was averted by the timely intervention of the Alpino warship.

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.

Check Out This Cool New Video of Chinese Navy Carrier Ops the Week They Launched 3 New Warships

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Chinese Navy Warships
A Chinese J-15 Flying Shark launches off the new Type 002 aircraft carrier Shandong- (Photo: CCTV via YouTube)

Chinese Navy on A Tear to Assert Global Reach with New Carriers and Warships.

While the Chinese military has been on a tear of introducing new weapons systems and platforms, this past week was remarkable even compared to their recent pace of rapid military expansion.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, or “PLAN”, launched three newly commissioned warships and released a fascinating new video showcasing operations on their newest and first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Shandong Type 002 this past week.

The big week in Chinese Naval expansion raised eyebrows of military observers around the world as China exerts and expands influence in their own regional waters and also continues an effort to project power in the seas off Africa’s east coast.

Chinese Navy
The three new Chinese naval vessels at their combined launch ceremony last week. (Photo: via China Update/Chinese State Media)

The three new ships launched last week by the Chinese Navy include the nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarine “Changzheng-18”. The new Changzheng-18, a Type 094A Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile platform, is somewhat comparable to, although about 20% shorter than, the U.S. Navy’s current Ohio Class fleet ballistic missile submarine. The Changzheng-18 carries 12 of China’s highly capable JL-2 SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile). The JL-2 SLBM or “Giant Wave 2” is a second-generation intercontinental range nuclear missile with up to three independent warheads and a range of 7,200 kilometers.

Chinese state media covering the launch of the three new ships were careful to characterize the Changzheng-18 nuclear fleet ballistic missile submarine as a weapon meant for “second strike” in retaliation for an initial attack against China, not an offensive weapon for first-strike power projection. Conversely, the new Yussan-Class “Hainan” Type 075 amphibious assault ship is more specifically configured for power projection and, according to state media, is, “used to land on enemy territories”. This ship is roughly analogous the U.S. Navy’s “America” and “Wasp” class of amphibious assault ship or “gator freighter”.

Chinese Navy Submarine
The new Chinese fleet ballistic missile submarine Changzheng-18 at its launch ceremony last week. (Photo: via China Update/Chinese State Media)

The mission of this ship is interesting given China’s recent military adventures in Africa, including the establishment of a military base in Djibouti in 2017. The Chinese military mission on the African continent is stated as including, “anti-piracy, intelligence collection, peacekeeping operations, counterterrorism and non-combat evacuation operations”.

The Chinese international counterterrorism and non-combatant evacuation missions in Africa were showcased in real life, and in popular Chinese action cinema during the March, 2015 rescue missions in Yemen. The Chinese military successfully rescued over 620 Chinese citizens and 270 foreign citizens in a series of daring operations conducted over 12 days in Djibouti by Chinese special forces and naval assets. In all, civilians from 15 different countries received rescue and aid from the Chinese military.

The daring real-world 2015 Chinese special operations rescue mission from local insurgents in Africa was dramatized (and embellished) in the wildly popular 2018 Chinese-Hong Kong action movie, “Operation Red Sea”. The movie was a smash-hit in China, grossing over 3.36 billion yuan ($531 million) at the box office in its opening weeks. “Operation Red Sea” became the third highest grossing Chinese film ever, according to the Chinese film database and ticketing platform Maoyan.

The third ship launched by the Chinese Navy last week was the new “Dalian” Type 055 destroyer. The Type 055 destroyer, also known as the “Renhai-Class Cruiser” by NATO, is an advanced, low-observable guided missile and air defense destroyer meant to accompany a carrier battle group. The ship also includes a significant anti-submarine warfare capability. The new Dalian and the previous two, and planned five more Renhai-Class/Type 055 ships are heavily armed with a 112-cell vertical launch missile system distributed on the fore and aft decks. The ship also packs an updated H/PJ-38 130mm naval gun and a Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) for missile and aircraft defense among other weapons.

Chinese Navy
A Chinese H/PJ-38 130mm deck gun as seen on deck of a Renhai-Class Type 055 destroyer of the same type launched earlier this week. (Photo: Xianwen Lianbo via Twitter)

In addition to the three new ship launches, Chinese state media network CCTV released an excellent new video showing flight operations and an insider’s look at the beautiful new aircraft carrier Shandong. The Shandong, China’s first domestically-produced aircraft carrier, was launched on April 26, 2017. The ship’s design is updated from previous Chinese carriers that were acquired from Russia. Shandong, however, is greatly advanced over previous Chinese carriers.


The new video shows a well-drilled crew presenting the ship’s features and an interesting look at how clean and advanced the new vessel is. There is also some great video of flight operations with Chinese J-15 Flying Shark aircraft.

The new ship launches and media not only emphasize China’s more open attitude about showcasing their increasing military capabilities, they also give further reason for most western observers to reconsider underestimating Chinese military capabilities. The idea that China’s naval, air and land-based military assets are somehow second-rate to western peers has rapidly become outdated and ill-informed as China continues impressive growth of their global military capabilities.

Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.

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.

The Israeli Air Force Officially Introduces The “Oron”: A Highly-Modified G550 With “Unprecedented ISR Capabilities”

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Israeli Air Force Oron aircraft
The new G550 “Oron” of the Israeli Air Force. (Image credit: Amit Agronov/IAF)

According to the Israeli Air Force, the new G550 “Oron” combines the capabilities of several different ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft in a single platform.

On Sunday Apr. 4, 2021, the Israeli Air Force formally introduced the “Oron”, a new G550 aircraft that has been extensively modified to “grant the IAF unprecedented intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.” The advanced platform has been assigned to the 122nd “Nachson” Squadron at Nevatim AB in central Israel, north of Dimona, where a ceremony led by the Commander of the IAF, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, was held.

“The ‘Oron’ is yet another manifestation of the IAF’s increasing effectiveness”, said Maj. Gen. Norkin. “The aircraft adds another layer to the IAF’s current operational and strategic capabilities, which allow for continued air superiority in the Middle East and an ability to defend Israel’s skies and ensure its security”.

The 122nd is the IAF’s ISR squadron and operates two “Nachshon” aircraft models: “Shavit” (Gulfstream G500) and “Eitam” (Gulfstream G550). The “Oron” received today appears to be a new variant of the G550. “The aircraft combines several capabilities including aerial imaging, control and radar, and maritime intelligence gathering for the Navy”, explains Maj. I, Deputy Commander of the 122nd Squadron. “The majority of these capabilities already exist in our squadron and the ‘Maof Rahav’ unit, however, with the new aircraft, we managed to condense them all onto a single flight platform”.

The aircraft still wears the U.S. registration N552GD and has been delivered to the IAF flying from Savannah, Georgia, home of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, to Nevatim via Shannon, Ireland, on Mar. 16, 2021.

The route of N552GD on Mar. 16, 2021. (Image credit: Flightradar24.com)

Externally, the “Oron” is similar to the “Eitam”, the G550 CAEW. This is a sort of mini-AWACS equipped with 2 L-band antennas, on both sides of the fuselage, and 2 S-band antennas, on the nose and tail of the aircraft. The antennas are part of a EL/W-2085, a Phalcon and Green Pine (used for the Arrow Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile Missile, ATBMM) derivative. However, its systems are more advanced and allow for a wider range of missions, says the IAF on its website. “The big improvement is in its overall capabilities and diversity of the tasks it can perform”, says Maj. I. “The aircraft combines the capabilities of the ‘Eitam’ and the ‘Shavit’, reconnaissance aircraft from the Fighter Division, and advanced air-to-surface radar. The plane is not only significant to the Squadron and the IAF, but is an important asset to the entire IDF: it will conduct ISR missions for the Navy using unique systems, all in cooperation with the IDF Intelligence Directorate and the ‘Maof Rahav’ unit. This is a plane that accommodates  all three branches of the Israeli military”.

Interestingly, the aircraft has also a longer endurance and range, and is operated by a larger crew: among them there is also intelligence personnel whose role is to analyze data in real-time to shorten the OODA (observe–orient–decide–act) loop.

Data collected through ISR operations is vital to support real operations and air strike combining kinetic assets with weapons systems carrying pioneering Electronic Warfare and cyber technologies. As proved by the 2007 success of Israeli Air Force’s Operation Orchard against a Syrian nuclear installation, largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind. Some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems.

The IAF has invested a lot in cutting edge ISR platforms to achieve the Information/Intelligence superiority required to face the multiple internal and external threats. These ISR platforms embed custom, domestic sensors, integrated by Israeli companies, and in some cases, the resulting aircraft have also been exported (as the G550 CAEW, used also by Italy and Singapore). At that respect, it would be interesting to understand whether some of the “Oron” sensors will make their way to Italy’s JAMMS (Joint Airborne Multi-sensor Multi-mission System) aircraft, the Italian platform designated to replace the single G-222VS (Versione Speciale – Special Version) that was equipped for SIGINT missions in the 1980s.

A front view of the “Oron”. (Image credit: Amit Agronov/IAF)

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.
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