10 July, 1987 began with redoubled Soviet efforts to establish air superiority over Northern Norway and pave the way for future air and sea operations farther south. The Northwestern TVD, like its sister commands, was contending with sizable delays to its timeline of operations. The air situation over Norway especially was a half day behind schedule in spite of the gains made against NATO air defenses in the region on 9 July. With NATO convoys a day or so away from entering range of Long Range Aviation and Naval Aviation heavy bombers, it was imperative that an impervious air corridor be established over Northern Norway and the Soviet air defense perimeter be expanded to cover the northern third of Norway and the Norwegian Sea.
Losses in aircraft, namely tactical fighters, had so far been higher than anticipated. The experiences and lessons learned on the first day of war underscored the strengths and shortcomings of the Soviet Quantity vs NATO Quality argument. Soviet air commanders had openly expected NATO’s fighters, sensors, and weapons to be technologically superior to their Soviet counterparts. Nevertheless, they were still shocked by the loss ratios and the stories that surviving Soviet pilots were bringing back after their missions.
It was evident that a maximum effort had to be made to break what the Soviets viewed as a deadlock in the skies. On the morning of the 10th, that effort commenced.
NATO’s assessment of the situation was strikingly different. The Royal Norwegian Air Force was hanging on by a thread in the northern counties. The reinforcements reluctantly dispatched to AIRNON from airbases in the south were a welcomed addition, however, their numbers were nowhere what was needed to plug the hole in Norway’s air defenses. Difficult decisions were made regarding priorities and assets were allocated accordingly. Airbases and radar sites essential to NATO’s overall defensive plan for the North Flank would be defended extensively for as long as possible. Other less critical installations were to be left practically naked.
Right after dawn, the first formations of Soviet fighter-bombers and their escorts crossed into Norwegian airspace virtually unmolested. Air defense radars that survived the first day’s effort, and forward airfields in Finnmark were the first priorities. The northern-most radars had already been written off by AIRNON. Minimal effort was made to intercept the attacking MiGs and Sukhois. Ground based SAMs in the area did manage to inflict some losses before they too were silenced by air-defense suppression missions. Banak air station was a different story. F-16s and NF-5s defended Banak as much as circumstances allowed. Unfortunately, in most cases the Norwegian fighters expended their ordnance against Soviet aircraft that had already expended their air to ground ordnance. The hit and run type tactics employed by the Norwegians minimized their losses, however, the damage done to the air station was too great to warrant further effort. Banak was declared ineffective and surviving support personnel and the few aircraft to survive the morning’s airstrikes were evacuated to bases in the south. By midafternoon, two companies of Soviet heliborne troops assaulted Banak and after a brief firefight with Norwegian security troops that had been left behind, took control of the base.
Later that morning much larger Soviet air attacks were launched against the airbases at Bardufoss. and Andoya. Both suffered major damage, though the HAWK missile batteries at both acquitted themselves quite well. At Andoya, five of 333rd Squadron’s six P-3C Orion aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The survivor was in the air at the time of the attack and survived. It was these attacks that brought AIRNON to accept the bitter reality that the Soviets had achieved air superiority over the whole northern area of Norway.