Soviet air operations in the north were affected by the shuffling of commanders taking place that morning. Planned air attacks against Swedish targets were scaled back significantly with some of the attack aircraft, and fighters re-tasked to support the 54th Motor Rifle Division in Finland. Preparation for a large raid against Bodo in the early afternoon was placed on the back burner as well when 10th Independent Air Army pulled its fighters from the escort mission and reassigned them to defensive duties for the time being. This move was particularly indicative of a looming shift in the mindset of the newly installed air commanders away from offensive air. With NATO airpower numbers and strength increasing, and air superiority over Northern Norway lost with the exception of the North Cape area, air defense of the Kola was rapidly assuming priority.
The number of engagements between NATO and Soviet fighters over Northern Norway through midday on D+11 was markedly lower than in the previous 48 hours. US Navy F-14 Tomcats operating out of Bodo maintained a strong and continuous BARCAP (Barrier Combat Air Patrol) north of Andoya through the day. US F-15s, and Norwegian F-16s covered the airspace a little farther northeast, including over Banak. Forward Soviet CAP stations were positioned from Hammerfest back to the Norwegian-Soviet border. The relatively short distances between the NATO and Soviet patrols guaranteed there would be engagements, and there were. But nowhere near as often, or in the numbers that either side expected. New Soviet air commanders, and the shift to defense were certainly part of the reason for this. However, there were other contributing factors at work as well.
AFNORTH had been patiently squirreling away its strike assets over the previous fifty-six hours. Two squadrons of US F-111s, and the same number of British Tornados were nearly ready to commence the next phase of air operations on the Northern Flank: Taking the war into the Soviet’s backyard. Air planners in Kolsas had put together a bold, and complex plan for an offensive air campaign targeting Soviet military installations, railroads, road junctions, and other targets of military importance on the Kola Peninsula. The campaign was named Operation Midnight Sun.
The F-111s, and Tornados would not undertake the effort by themselves. There were dozens of other warplanes in Norway presently or on the way. F-4G Wild Weasels for SEAD. F-15s, and RAF Phantoms to escort the strikers north, as well as other aircraft to fulfil various other support roles. A request had even been put in with SAC for a limited number of B-52s but it did not appear that SAC wanted to risk any of its workhorse bombers over northern Russia unless the war turned nuclear.
Midnight Sun was almost ready to go. Its launch time depended greatly on the US Navy. The three carrier air wings in the Norwegian Sea were tacitly a part of the air campaign plan, though it was understood the Navy would be fighting its own war over the Kola in a sense. Their target base, at least initially, would be ports, shipyards, and airfields home to Naval Aviation aircraft. The first goal of the carrier-borne fighters, and attack planes would be to neutralize the threat to their sea-going home bases. Once that was achieved, the air wings would join the ground-based NATO aircraft effort against other targets.
The issue at the moment was that Strike Fleet Atlantic wasn’t quite ready. AFNORTH planners and air commanders were not sure why this was the case, but it was. Both CINC-North and SACEUR were aware the carrier groups were dragging their feet so to speak, but neither of them appeared to be overly concerned.