The capability of the weapons systems plus the ability to get so close within range shows they could launch nuclear missiles and wipe out cities within only a few minutes.
Nuclear-capable Russian bombers are flying over the North Sea and the Atlantic. And U.S. Air Force officers are very concerned at what could be a rehearsal of a deadly mission.
Russian bombers may be flying nuclear strike drills over the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, current and former U.S. Air Force officers believe. At the very least, these officers tell The Daily Beast, the Russian Air Force is aggressively probing what NATO calls European airspace in an effort to gauge the reaction times of the western alliance’s defenses.
Since Oct. 28, NATO air defenses have detected and monitored four groups of Russian combat aircraft over the Baltic Sea, North Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Black Sea. Norwegian F-16 fighters intercepted one particular group of Russian aircraft on Oct. 29 that included four, nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Ilyushin Il-78 aerial refueling tankers. Once intercepted, six of the Russian aircraft headed for home while the two remaining Tu-95 bombers continued southwest, parallel to the Norwegian coast, before eventually turning back towards Russia.
The giant, propeller-driven Tu-95 is a launch platform for the 1,600 nautical mile range Raduga Kh-55 nuclear-tipped cruise missile. The weapon carries a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead; by comparison, the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki was a mere 21 kilotons. Some active-duty and retired U.S. Air Force officials told The Daily Beast that the Tu-95s might have been flying to certain predetermined launch points for their nuclear missiles.
“That could certainly be the case,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the service’s influential former intelligence chief. “It is not farfetched that at some point within the next two years [Russian President Vladimir] Putin makes a more aggressive move in Eastern Europe and uses a nuclear threat to deter a NATO response.”
Of course, every nuclear capable air force runs exercises to practice its so-called “strategic deterrence.” It’s the pace and scale of these current flights that have military observers concerned.
“Our bomber crews regularly fly training sorties for their full range of potential missions, including strategic deterrence practice missions,” Mark Gunzinger, a former B-52 pilot and current air power analyst the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said. “[The Russian Air Force] has never stopped flying training sorties, but it’s apparent that the scope of this one is catching people’s attention.”
Asked if at least some of these flights were nuclear drills, Gunzinger responded, “that is probably the case.”
Another former Air Force F-4G and F-15E electronic warfare officer said that there simply is not enough information to be certain of what the Russians’ intentions are. “It could be anything,” said Michael Pietrucha. “There’s nothing wrong with long range training sorties because they allow you to work out the kinks for a variety of missions.”
Nonetheless, the foray into European airspace by the Tu-95 Bear bombers is cause for concern. That’s not just because of the Bear bomber’s long-range nuclear weapons capability, but also because of the Russian’s general disregard for international air traffic norms. Not only did the Russians not file a proper flight plan, they also did not have active transponders—which would allow civilian air traffic controllers to see them. The situation could lead to a serious accident where an airliner might collide with a Russian bomber.
Full article: Are Russian Bombers Flying Nuclear Drills Near Europe—Or Just Testing NATO’s Defenses? (The Daily Beast)