Tag Archives: Tu-95MS

Tupolevs Over Tajikistan

Tu-95 MS Bear (photo TVZvezda)

Tu-95MS / Bear (photo: TVZvezda)

Moscow integrated Tu-95MS / Bear and Tu-22M3 / Backfire bombers into a “large-scale” exercise with Tajikistan this week.

Bears and Backfires (and Tu-160 / Blackjacks) participated in strikes on Syrian targets last November, and we’re accustomed to Russian bombers probing U.S. and NATO air defenses.  But this might be the first time the Russians have deployed strategic bombers for training over a former Soviet / CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization partner.

If not, it is uncommon.

This somewhat dubious distinction might indicate that Kremlin concern about Tajikistan’s security (and its impact on Russia’s) is a notch above worries about other allies right now.

The Bears flew from their base at Engels in Saratov Oblast by way of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to get to Tajikistan.  The TVZvezda video below shows one hooked up to a tanker aircraft.

The Backfires operated from Tajik airfields along with 30 Russian Su-24M and Su-25SM aircraft and combat helicopters, according to TVZvezda.

The “anti-terrorism” exercise began on 14 March, and involved roughly 2,000 troops from the two sides, news agency TASS reported.

The combined force, including troops from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan, VDV, and VDV Spetsnaz, blocked and destroyed a large notional motorized insurgent group that violated the country’s border.  The VDV conducted tactical airborne and air assault operations against the notional enemy along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Central MD commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy and Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo observed the exercise.

So why the bombers?  First, it’s good to get flight familiarization over terrain where one might fly a real combat mission one day.  Second and more important, bombers armed with cruise missiles make a more immediate and tangible impression than equally threatening submarines cruising in the Black Sea or Med.  It’s almost the inverse of Syria where subs got the first action but LRA also had the chance to conduct real-world operations.

What of Tajikistan, the ostensible reason for the entire military display?

For Jamestown.org, Paul Goble has written about its vulnerability to Islamic State or Taliban forces.  But, he says, Turkmenistan might actually be a more vulnerable and more attractive target.  It has natural gas for the taking and it lacks a fairly strong and proactive ally like Russia.

Also writing for Jamestown, Steve Blank speculated that Tajikistan could become a “fourth front” for Russia, along with Ukraine, Syria, and the North Caucasus. Tajikistan is a key part of Moscow’s “domino theory.”  If Dushanbe falls into hostile hands, the rest of Central Asia and Russia itself become more vulnerable.

Come what may, an exercise involving strategic aviation just beyond Russia’s periphery is an interesting and rather unnoticed event that we could see again.

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Putin, Aircraft, and the OPK

President Vladimir Putin met Thursday with Defense Ministry and aviation industry leaders to discuss military aircraft production.   Kremlin.ru covered his introductory remarks to the assembled group at the 393rd Air Base in Krasnodar Kray.

Putin Addresses the Meeting

Putin touched on PAK DA, UAVs, and damping down industry expectations of funding above and beyond GPV-2020.  To the OPK reps present, the president again stressed timely deliveries of high-quality equipment at reasonable prices.  He took a pretty hard line with the industry, saying it agreed with the GPV last year and there won’t be more than the 19 trillion rubles promised to buy arms and equipment for the Armed Forces.  It seemed odd he didn’t dwell at all on PAK FA development, or Su-34 or transport aircraft procurement.

Putin began by noting that most in attendance were at last year’s meeting on the OPK’s readiness to fulfill the Gosoboronzakaz.  He mentioned aviation’s “decisive role” in modern operations, and once again said that the military (in this case, the Air Forces) have to be prepared to complete missions beyond Russian Federation borders to fulfill Moscow’s alliance obligations.

Putin said the VVS will receive 4 trillion rubles, almost a quarter of the GPV money, for their rearmament by 2020.

He acknowledged that developing PAK DA would not be easy, but:

“If we don’t start promptly, I have the time frames for completing separate elements of this program in mind, we could miss the chance, because it’s impossible to extend the service life periods of existing equipment forever.”

He noted that essential modernization of Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers has taken place, and a new ALCM is entering the inventory.

Putin next discussed UAVs and their growing role in combat operations.  He said Russia must develop them, and he plans to spend 400 billion rubles on pilotless aircraft by 2020.

On that pesky issue of buying drone technology abroad, Putin said pretty definitively:

“I turn your attention to the fact that it’s necessary and possible to use the groundwork of our foreign partners, but having this in mind, you well know:  no one will give us the most advanced things, the cutting edge.  We have to do it by ourselves, we need to use what we have at our disposal, and it’s necessary to use what was developed abroad, but we also have to make new advances ourselves.”

The president claimed 30 squadrons have already received new aircraft, and he repeated the familiar goal of providing the VVS 70 percent new equipment by 2020, including 600 new airplanes and 1,000 helicopters.

He mentioned work on Russia’s military airfield network.  During the last four years, four new airfields were built and 28 were reportedly modernized.  Work to the tune of 40 billion rubles is planned for nine more over the coming four years.

Putin took pains to emphasize that “everything” was agreed with the OPK last year.  The government will “support” enterprises and design bureaus as they modernize factories and facilities.  But, he again said, the demands will be severe.  Defense orders must be fulfilled fully, on time, with high quality, and at economically justified prices.  As earlier agreed with the Defense Ministry, profitability will be 15, 18, or even 20 percent.  And the military is supposedly paying Gosoboronzakaz contracts 100 percent in advance, he added.

Putin was particularly emphatic on his next point:

“There won’t be other money, greater than the amount allocated to 2020.  I’ve already talked about this 100 times.  At one recent conference, proposals were again heard to increase it.  We would be happy to increase it, perhaps, but there’s no money!”

He reminded participants most of them were present when Air Forces procurement plans were set, and most VVS contracts are long-term ones running out to 2015-2018.

Putin mentioned that long-term VVS procurement contracts are relying on government-guaranteed credits (i.e. not necessarily money out of this year’s budget).  Aircraft contracts for GOZ-2012 already amount to 2.5 billion rubles.

But isn’t that a very small amount?  The VVS will need to spend upwards of 450 billion a year for nine years to spend their 4 trillion, won’t they?  And 45 billion rubles for UAVs alone.  Ten billion will be spent on airfields annually through 2016. 

Strategic Forces Training

Russia fired two SLBMs and an ICBM today.  Pacific Fleet Delta III SSBN Saint Georgiy Pobedonosets launched an SS-N-18 (RSM-50) SLBM from the Sea of Okhotsk.  Northern Fleet Delta IV SSBN Bryansk fired a Sineva (RSM-54) SLBM from the Barents Sea. 

And a crew from the Vladimir Missile Army’s Bologoye Division launched an SS-25 (RS-12M/Topol) ICBM from Plesetsk.

An RVSN spokesman said this launch allows Russia to extend the service life of this grouping of SS-25s to 23 years or until about 2015, and to conduct a planned replacement of these missiles without overburdening the military’s budget.

Yesterday Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 bombers launched weapons on ranges in Irkutsk and Komi as part of an Air Forces exercise.

According to some reports, the Navy may test fire the Bulava SLBM for the second time in 2010 tomorrow.

LRA Command-Staff Exercise

Today Russian Long-Range Aviation (LRA or ДА) began a large three-day command-staff exercise (CSX or КШУ) under Air Forces CINC General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin’s direction.  The CSX involves units from Siberia, the Far East, but also Lipetsk, and 40 aircraft including the Tu-160, Tu-22M3, Tu-95MS, Il-78, A-50, MiG-29, MiG-31, and Su-27SM.  They will operate both from their home and temporary bases, and fly over central Russia, the Far East, and extreme northern parts of the Russian Federation.  A-50 crews will control the airspace for the exercise.  Il-78 tankers will conduct mid-air refueling, and ranges at Pemboy near Vorkuta and at Nogotay in Irkutsk Oblast will be used for missile launches and other weapons training.