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Russia’s recent strategic bomber deployment may be as much to gather intelligence as to train crews


On 15 January, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that it had scrambled a pair of Royal Air Force Eurofighter TYPHOON FGR4 fighters to intercept and escort two Russian Air Force (RuAF) Tupolev Tu-160M/M2 strategic bombers as these aircraft approached the UK airspace.

According to an MOD statement regarding the incident, the aircraft did not penetrate UK airspace and were performing a 13-hour long training flight over the North Sea and Baltic regions. Although the flights were being used for training, it is possible that they were also conducted as part of a semi-regular effort by the RuAF to collect electronic intelligence regarding the response times and general pattern of behaviour of NATO’s assorted integrated air defence Systems in the North Sea and Baltic regions.

For example, these aircraft maybe capable of recording ground-based air surveillance radar responses using signals intelligence collection equipment. Details are scarce regarding the exact subsystems fit for the bombers, but it seems certain that the aircraft will incorporate radar warning receivers for self-protection so as to detect when they are being illuminated by hostile radar. Such equipment could be used for the collection and later analysis of NATO radar transmissions, or alternatively, the aircraft maybe capable of being equipped with specific subsystems to perform such tasks for the duration of their sorties.

Regular intelligence collection is an important part of gathering so-called ‘pattern of life’ information regarding the activities and behaviour of an IADS. Yesterday’s sorties by the RuAF over the North Sea and Baltic may have been as much a part of this intelligence gathering effort, as for training bomber crews.

Thomas Withington


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