By lex, on August 11th, 2007
Back in the “bad” old days of the Cold War, the “end of the world” was a concept closely akin to the weather: Everybody talked about it a great deal, but no one actually did anything. From our Navy-centric point of view, we always assumed that the Soviet Union’s Godless Communist Plot to Dominate the World by First Incinerating It would commence with a regimental-sized raid of Tu-22 Backfire bombers striking whatever aircraft carrier battle group it was that had the misfortune to be at sea when the balloon went up.
In order to find such a battle group – the oceans being largish fields of maneuver, like – they would first have had to launch a reconnaissance effort, typically using a variant of the Tu-95 Bear. Once a westward wending carrier group had gotten roughly half way between Hawaii and Japan – close to the curiously named “Midway Island” – it would be within the feasibility arc for such a land-based reconnaissance effort. This waterspace we labeled the “Bear Box”, and great efforts were made to deny our potential adversary initial, rough or fine targeting information.
It was a kind of cat and mouse game, with the Bears filling in for the questing cat, and the carrier serving as the hiding mouse, albeit a mouse that was ready and able to launch and sustain fighters bristling with missiles and attitude, should ever a Bear get across the tripwire. Once joined aboard the Bear’s wing, jolly salutes would often be exchanged between the fighter crew and those of the Tupolev, while each took photographs of the other for intelligence purposes.
It was not unheard of for their tube operators to press pornographic magazines against the blister glass if they were in a good mood, or “pressed hams” against the windows if they were feeling a bit more cross-grained. All in good fun in the spirit of the day, although the fighter crew would just as cheerfully – if not more so – flame the Bear down to the sparkling sea below if the crew performed anything even sniffing of a hostile act against the carrier herself. There were some close calls – it was not unheard of for a low-flying Bear to try to scrape his escorting fighter off into the sea by turning into him suddenly, for example – but for the most part everyone minded their P’s and Q’s. It was the end of the world we were playing with after all.
Initial targeting information could come from the intercept and localization of long range communication nets, so these were often shut down once entering “the Box”. Unique aircraft carrier radar and navigation aids could provide rough targeting and identification, so these were secured once we had been made aware that a Bear was airborne. Since those unique emitters that helped the Bear crews pluck the carrier out of the chaff that is all the rest of the ships at sea at any given moment were the very same ones that we aviators used to find our way home to Mom, that would necessitate the use of “EMCON” or emissions controlled launch and recovery procedures. Professionally executed these were a thing of precision and joy, but they were non-trivially difficult and any airborne ineptitude offered equal chances of humiliation and hilarity on the one hand (depending upon your perspective) or getting lost and running out of gas a long way from home on the other.
Few things, I think, can be more thoroughly demoralizing than transitioning in a brief space of time from being a fighter pilot with mastery over all your domain to being a search and rescue candidate, floating in a one-man raft in the great broad sea, hoping that someone who hadn’t the slightest idea where you were might somehow find you. These things happened.
After the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union decomposed into its various component parts, we continued sending ships westward while our erstwhile competitors turned their eyes inward for a time.
Russia’s strategic bombers have resumed Cold War-style long-haul missions to areas patrolled by NATO and the United States, top generals said on Thursday.
A Russian bomber flew over a U.S. naval base on the Pacific island of Guam on Wednesday and “exchanged smiles” with U.S. pilots who had scrambled to track it, said Major-General Pavel Androsov, head of long-range aviation in the Russian air force…
President Vladimir Putin has sought to make Russia more assertive in the world. Putin has boosted defense spending and sought to raise morale in the armed forces, which were starved of funding following the fall of the Soviet Union.
Androsov said the sortie by the two turboprop Tu-95MS bombers, from a base near Blagoveshchensk in the Far East, had lasted for 13 hours. The Tu-95, codenamed “Bear” by NATO, is Russia’s Cold War icon and may stay in service until 2040.
“I think the result was good. We met our colleagues — fighter jet pilots from (U.S.) aircraft carriers. We exchanged smiles and returned home,” Androsov said.
Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow office director of the Washington-based World Security Institute, said he saw nothing extraordinary in Moscow sending its bombers around the globe.
Well, given that Russia’s GDP ranks eleventh in the world *– just behind Brazil and just ahead of South Korea – I suppose we’ll have a number of more assertive players flying world-wide reconnaissance missions soon.
Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are traveling together on a train when suddenly it lurches to a stop. Stalin has the conductor shot. The train doesn’t move. Khrushchev rehabilitates the conductor. The train still doesn’t move. Brezhnev closes the curtains and says, “Now, we’re moving.
*08-13-18 By this date by the same reference Russia is now 12th – Ed.
** 08-13-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.