Air War on the Central Front D+4 (13 July, 1987) Part II



Lieutenant General Goryaniov’s hunger for retribution was not satisfied by the morning airstrikes on RAF Tornado bases in 2nd ATAF’s area. The commander of the 16th Air Army wanted to strike a blow which would severely degrade NATO’s ability to defend the airspace above the battle front, or at the very least force the enemy to change its tactics. In short, Goryaniov wanted NATO air forces to respond to his forces for a change. To make this become reality, he had an ace up his sleeve that had so far remained unused in the war, despite loud demands by some of his commanders over the past three days to use it. Goriyanov had resisted the calls, knowing that his air crews might only get one attempt to pull it off.

In the afternoon hours of D+4, Goriyanov judged the moment had arrived. Two regiment-sized fighter sweeps, as USAF aircrews refer to them, were launched. Ostensibly, these were intended to establish air superiority in the skies over I NL Corps in the NORTHAG area, part of an increasingly large effort to draw NATO’s focus away from the area where the main Soviet attack was to fall in the next 24 hours. Predictably, 2nd ATAF responded swiftly to the emerging threat. Large numbers of Dutch, Belgian, and West German fighters rose from their airfields to meet the oncoming regiments of MiG-23s.

Mixed in between the formations of Floggers was a flight of four MiG-31 Foxhounds armed with AA-9 Amos long-range AAMs. Amid the confusion and chaos thrown up by multiple engagements and dogfights breaking out, the Foxhounds descended to just under 1,000ft AGL and sped northwest at Mach 2+. Just before reaching Wilhelmshaven, the four interceptors swung south, activated their radars, and started climbing. In less than a minute, the flight broke into two sections and streaked towards their intended targets.

The targets were two NATO E-3A Sentry AWACS aircraft. One was airborne over Osnabruck, and the other one was loitering 35,000 feet north of Dortmund. Radar controllers on board the Sentries detected the inbound Foxhounds at almost the same time. By then it was almost too late. As the CAP fighters protecting the AWACS planes screamed north, each MiG launched a pair of AA-9s. The E-3s reacted instinctively, shutting down their radars and diving for the ground. The northern aircraft, Magic 23, was blotted from the sky, though the missiles targeted on the AWACS further south all missed. The surviving E-3 moved southwest, deeper into West German, and then Dutch airspace. Its ability to direct the air battle raging over I NL Corps sector was severely compromised, however. For a brief period of time, Soviet fighters dueled with their NATO counterparts on an almost even playing field, until the allied advantage in superior aircraft and pilots diminished this. Still, the kill ratios turned out to be quite favorable for the MiG regiments, and the destruction of an E-3 would cause major changes in NATO tactics to prevent it from happening again. More importantly, for Goryaniov, the mission proved that successful hit-and-run attacks against high-value NATO air assets were possible.

2 Replies to “Air War on the Central Front D+4 (13 July, 1987) Part II”

  1. Very interesting tactic used here.

    I read an article on The National Interest that the Chinese would likely use their limited number of J-20’s in an “assassin” type role to target high value aircraft like AWACS and tankers if a conflict ever broke out in the Pacific. The long range PL-15 missile the Chinese have is also very worrisome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a standard tactic, nothing really new about it. I know National Interest’s military articles try to portray it as if they’re revealing something very new and earth-shattering. But they’re not. We practiced similar tactics when I was around too, going after tankers and AWACS. And that was with much better aircraft and coordination than a J-20 🙂 I know everyone is creaming over that plane but when the shooting starts it won’t live up to the hype. Same goes for the PL-15 more than likely.

      Back in the later years of the Cold War the Russian tactic was to overwhelm the enemy CAP and go after high-value targets with a second group of MiGs. Slip them through of possible. Nothing subtle, just use a sledgehammer on the CAP and hope the leakers can score some Sentry and tanker kills.


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