The North Atlantic D+9 (18 July, 1987) Part VI


Kitty Hawk began recovering aircraft. The Tomcat-Hawkeye combination had performed magnificently, decimating Raid-1 as well as killing six Backfires from Raid-2 as they withdrew. Damage control efforts on Montcalm kept the French frigate afloat for two hours. A long enough period of time for casualties, and the surviving crewmen to be transferred to other ships. She died protecting Foch and her loss, while tragic, was deemed acceptable.

Strike Fleet Atlantic’s commander was under no illusions about what had just taken place. Task Force 21.3 dodged a major bullet. The Backfires would be back, probably soon and in greater numbers. Kitty Hawk’s two squadrons of F-14s were not enough to defend the task force from a multi-regiment long-range bomber attack. Who controlled the air over northern Norway was yet to be decided, meaning support by land-based fighters would not be guaranteed over the next forty-eight hours. With this in mind, the admiral issued new orders. TF 21.3 was to head east for the relative safety of the fjords along the Norwegian coast.

Even before the last Tomcat had trapped, the results of the first clash between Backfire bombers and a NATO carrier force were being evaluated and reviewed on both sides. A number of pre-war strategies, tactics and doctrines were either vindicated or proven to be useless. Miscalculations were made by both sides, and in some cases left unexploited. At first glance the results of the battle appeared to be decisive, however, in many respects the margins of victory and defeat were razor thin.

For the US Navy, it was clear one carrier airwing did not have enough fighters to defend a carrier group on its own. Two squadrons of Tomcats was a formidable defense, and did the job well on this particular day. The outer air battle had been won. However, under more unfavorable circumstances, the outcome would’ve been different. Especially if multiple Backfire regiments had been unleashed against Task Force 21.3. Foch’s fighters were of limited value, and as was discovered, there had almost not been enough Tomcats to go around.

For surface ships, the New Threat Upgrade had performed beyond expectations, although it was accepted that eighteen Kitchens was not a major attack. Aegis remained the preferred air defense system, but right now there was only one Aegis-equipped cruiser in the Norwegian Sea.

Soviet Naval Aviation had to reevaluate itself after D+9. Limited, piecemeal attacks against NATO carrier groups were nothing more than a waste of airframes and crews. Of the forty or so Backfires that approached the Kitty Hawk-Foch group, only half managed to get their missiles off. Of these, only one found its way to an enemy. Every aspect of the attack, from satellite support, to detection, and attack plans needed to be revised before the next strike. Most crucial was the number of bombers. Three regiments of bombers at the very least would be needed to assure at least a respectable chance of success. The multi-layered defenses of an enemy task force were formidable indeed. The interlocking web was made up of interceptors, airborne radars, long-range SAMs, jamming, and point defense weapons. Four regiments worth of bombers, roughly 120 aircraft carrying preferably two ASMs each, plus standoff ECM Badgers accompanying, and Bears out ahead was a more palatable recipe for success. And perhaps most important of all, at least two regiments of escorting fighters would also be needed, defense of the Kola be damned.

15 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+9 (18 July, 1987) Part VI”

  1. The problem as I see it… is that there may NOT be enough regiments of fighters available for the backfire raids. I agree- 1.5 to 2 bomber regiments isn’t enough to hit that combined TF… but then, the F-8s may not have been in a good position to do anything.

    Naval Aviation saying “Screw Kola” will likely not fly well… or at all. Especially with the Marines about to do their part and the Fin’s being their typical alabama-tick selves.

    No matter what, this is going to be an interesting few posts coming….


  2. Stand Alert-5’s. The next time the Soviets muster for a raid, you launch an Alpha Strike with air cover from USMC F18s and French F8s and hit all up and down the Kola, you keep your Tomcats in 4x formations doing BARCAP with the Hawkeyes just like first time ’round.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ” And perhaps most important of all, at least two regiments of escorting fighters would also be needed, defense of the Kola be damned.”

    The Soviets are about to do something monumentally stupid that’s going to come back to bite them in the backside, aren’t they?

    “I know, I know. It’s a Russian thing. When we’re about to do something stupid, we like to catalog the full extent of our stupidity for future reference.” — Cdr. Susan Ivanova, Babylon 5

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well look at it like this: if the Russians manage to sink two of the three US carriers in the Norwegian Sea, they won’t need the fighters to defend the Kola 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dang. Ironically the Corsair-II is a really good bomb truck…but with the A6 the Kitty Hawk has that in spades, it’s air cover they need. The best A2A the Corsairs can carry is a pair of ‘winders, and the same goes for the Crusader, if they were to task the French with air cover.

    If Stephen Coonts’ figures from The Intruders are right, you lose about 30% of your force going in and 30% coming out. I think that’s a little optimistic, too, because his calculations (well, “Jake Grafton”‘s) were based on going against a Kirov battlegroup, not land based installations which are going to be better defended.

    A cruise missile strike, despite its success in Red Storm Rising, would probably be deemed as too provocative.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah; Grafton’s write up on the Kirov strike group, talking about the day-to-day with postwar flight ops…it really brings home how dangerous “regular” carrier air ops are even without an enemy shooting at you. It’s better than a lot of his other works. FotI, Intruders, and Minotaur are his best.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The problem is, that NO even modestly competent Soviet coomander would sen such a nonsense, piecemal “attack” against those carriers. Especially when two of them were supposed (intel mishap for taking the Foch for a US supercarrier), then all of that, what is intended to be sent “in the second strike” would be released in the first one, as the second could never be possible again.

    The aim would be simple – if you have a chance to sinh 2 US carrier, use it to maximum – as there can be 4 of these next time, and the chance diminishes greatly. Hit the US Navy as it sails piecemal itself – then there will be less carriers to worr about, after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. War is a roll of the dice, though, and with the satellite recon being broken, they had to go with what they had. The chance to maybe damage a carrier (which they did) and pick off a surface combatant (which they also did) was felt to be worth the gamble. Although they probably didn’t predict the airframe losses that they did suffer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s all about move and counter-move. After a battle the losing side goes back and makes the necessary changes. So does the winning side too…if they’re smart. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello again!
    I hope You know the article about the Soviet Naval Aviation’s Backfires and their tactics:
    direct link to text:

    This clearly states (page 12/13) that:

    “in the early 1980s a new, improved doctrine was developed to concentrate an entire MRA air division (two or three regiments) to attack the task force centered around one carrier. This time there would be a hundred (100) Backfires and Badgers per carrier, between seventy and eighty of them (70-80) carrying missiles. As the Northern Wedding and Team Spirit exercises usually involved up to three carrier battle groups, it was definitely necessary to have three combat-ready divisions both in northern Russia and on the Pacific coast of Siberia. But at the time, the MRA could provide only two-thirds of that strength—the 5th and 57th MR Air Divisions of the Northern Fleet and the 25th and 143rd MR Air Divisions of the Pacific Fleet. The rest of the divisions needed—that is, one for each region—were to be provided by the VVS DA.”

    Thus in Your scenario, there should be not only Backfires and Badgers of the 5th “Kirkenes” MRAD (Northern Fleet, based in Olenya, Severomorsk-3 and Lakhta) and 57th “Smolensk” MRAD (Baltic Fleet, based in Bykhov, Mogilev Oblast and Ostrov, Pskov Oblast), but also Backfires of the 326th “Tarnopol” TBAD (based in Tartu, Estonian SSSR, Balbasovo, Vitebsk Oblast and Soltsy, Novgorod Oblast).
    Baltic Fleet in 1987 had ~40-50 Tu-22M2 and 30+ Tu-16Ks (in various subvariants). Northern Fleet had ~30 Tu-22M3s and 60+ Tu-16Ks (in various subvariants). Major General Dzokhar Dudayev had unde his command ~60 Tu-22Ms + ~30 Tu-16Ks (in various subvariants; seems that in that time each regiment of the 326th TBAD had ~20 Backfires and ~10 Badgers).
    Thus the NATO carrier group would face the total force of ~130-140 Backfires and 120+ Badgers (minus leftovers made by malfunctions etc.). Depending on range, the Backfires would carry 1-3 AS-4 Kitchens (Raduga Kh-22) and/or 6-10 AS-16 Kickbacks (Kh-15S, Soviet missile similar to US SRAM in anti-ship variant – Tu-22M could carry 6 in rotary launcher in bomb bay and up to 2 on each underwing pylon; though smaller and with shorter range than AS-4, the AS-16 were much faster).

    “The two air force divisions had the same planes and roughly the same training, though according to memoirs of an experienced MRA flyer, Lieutenant General Victor Sokerin, during joint training DA crews were quite reluctant to fly as far out over the open ocean as the MRA crews did, not trusting enough in their own navigators’ skills, and tried to stay in the relative vicinity of the shore.”

    Thus you can expect, that the 326th Division’s strike course would be the one closest to the shore, i.e. more or less directly from the East, while 5th and 57th Divisions would attack from the North and possibly also Northwest, in total making a semi-circle around the US group, with missiles homing into the center.

    Which means, that there would be NO “attack” by 2 lonely regiments of Backfires, but rather coordinated attack of 3 bomber divisions, of total ~220 bombers with 120-240 AS-4s (possibly in mixture with AS-16s for second wave, flying after the AS-4s and hoping to get closer as Tomcats would be busy with shooting to Kitchens…) and another 200 AS-6s.
    And THAT would make a difference I’m writing about… with some 10-15 (or even more) missiles per ship (in fact some 5-10 per smaller one, 12-20 per flattops) the “game” would look completely different.

    Liked by 1 person

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