Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ah! The good old days. Let's do the Cold War all over again.

When this happened back on November 2nd, things got a little hairy for NORAD.
The US Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-15 fighter jets after a jet crashed on a training mission in Missouri last week.
That meant grounding the mainstay of the US Air Combat Command's fighter-interceptor force since they still don't have enought F-22 Raptors, and that meant that NORAD had some serious holes in the fighter umbrella covering North America.

So, make a call to the Canadian Air Force.
Canadian CF-18 fighter jets helped plug a hole in U.S. air defences for almost two weeks this month after American jets were grounded as part of a crash investigation.

The request to fill in for U.S. F-15s over the Alaskan coast was considered an urgent priority for NORAD, especially in light of the return of Russian strategic bombers to Arctic patrols.

Although not unprecedented, defence officials said the now-concluded operation was one of those "extremely rare" occasions when Canada was able to contribute to the defence of its much larger neighbour.

The aircraft are now back at their home base in Bagotville, Que., and the air force was able to lift what was described as a veil of operational security.

The Canadian fighters were attached to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.
The Canadian fighter jets were stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, near Anchorage, Alaska, and worked alongside the American 611th Air Operations Squadron, conducting sovereignty patrols on behalf of the Americans.
Now, before anyone goes off with their hair burning and yelling "deep integration", this is what NORAD is and has always been about. It has happened before and, especially during the Viet Nam war, Canada carried out several operations which patrolled both US airspace and US sea frontiers on behalf of absent US forces.

So, nothing really to get excited about. Well, not really. The disturbing part is actually why it was such an imperative to get fighter-interceptors up to Alaska.

The resumption of Russian Tu-95MS bomber flights this summer along the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic borders have kept NORAD "quite busy" and the pressure has not eased, he said.

After almost of decade of infrequent forays, the Russians startled Western militaries by resuming high Arctic long-range patrols, which had been a prominent feature of the Cold War.

Flying in pairs for up to 12 hours, the Tu-95MS strategic bombers trace the edge of American, Canadian and often Danish air space near Greenland, forcing NORAD fighters to scramble to meet them.

Oh good. The Bears are back. The Russian aircraft are large four-engine turbo-prop bombers built in the 1990s designated by NATO as Bear-H. As the Cold War fizzled out, the Bear bombers stopped making flights directed at NORAD airspace in March 1993.

On 16 September 1999 a pair of Bear bombers made a flight towards the Canadian and American north causing a NORAD fighter scramble. The bombers turned back just outside Alaskan airspace. After that, everything remained quiet until this past summer.

Probably originating with the Russian 184th heavy bomber air regiment, the Bear-H bombers have been making regular patrols along Canadian and American air boundaries. Although this is only speculation, the most likely candidates for making such flights would be some of the nineteen TU-95MS16s (Bear-H16) capable of carrying 16 AS-15 (Kh-55) air-launched cruise missiles.

None of this should have been a surprize since Putin actually announced the resumption of Soviet-era air patrols back in August.
President Vladimir Putin said Russia permanently resumed Friday long-distance patrol flights of strategic bombers, which were suspended in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"I made a decision to restore flights of Russian strategic bombers on a permanent basis, and at 00:00 today, August 17, 14 strategic bombers, support aircraft and aerial tankers were deployed. Combat duty has begun, involving 20 aircraft."

The president, speaking on the final day of large-scale military exercises involving Russia, China, and four Central Asian countries in the south Urals, said that on the first day of patrol flights, bomber planes would spend about 20 hours in the air, with midair refueling, and would interact with naval forces.

An announcement which was met with a shrug of the shoulder.

"That's a decision for them to take," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "It's interesting. We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union. It's a different era. If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision."
Really? It looks like a new Cold War to me. And since Russia is developing replacements for both the TU-95 bomber and the AS-15 cruise missile I'd say NORAD is going to be busy with regular fighter scrambles for a long time to come.

It's only a matter of time, (if they haven't already commenced), before the Russians fix their submarine-launched ballistic missile problems and start sending their ballistic missile submarines back out on patrol.

Has anyone told George Bush about this?

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