The North Atlantic D+14 (23 July, 1987) Part II

Following a lengthy but necessary UNREP after the carrier-air battle on the previous day, Strike Fleet Atlantic’s three remaining carriers and their escorts turned back north and steamed into range of Soviet military facilities and other targets on the Kola Peninsula. The air tasking for D+13 gave the carrier air wings two primary operational cycles for the day.

The first involved suppressing Soviet air defenses from Nautsi, the point where Finland, Norway, and the Soviet Union congregate, north to the Barents Sea. There were multiple Spoon Rest radars active in that area, as well as fixed SA-2 and -3 SAM sites. Land-based NATO airpower from Norwegian airbases hadn’t paid this forward region much attention since that responsibility for it had been given to the carrier air wings. The planners down at Kolsas failed to anticipate that Strike Fleet Atlantic would be running this far behind schedule and thus no sorties out of Norway were re-tasked earlier in the morning to deal with these air defenses and radars.

The second cycle of air operations would include knocking back radars and SAM sites farther inland between the border area, Severomorsk and the airbases in the vicinity. Coming on the heels of that effort, A-6 Intruders would hit the docks and naval facilities at Pechenga. This would be the first strike made against a Soviet naval facility on the Kola.

Forrestal’s airwing, CVW-6 was tasked with the missions included in the first round of sorties. Eisenhower’s CVW-7 would handle the second while Kitty Hawk’s wing was responsible for air defense of the carrier groups. At 1030 the launch cycle commenced on Forrestal. Repairs were still underway on Elevator 3 but that didn’t affect operations too greatly. The Corsairs, and escorting Prowlers and Tomcats formed up and headed east towards the Kola.

As the strike package reached the North Cape area the EA-6B Prowlers activated their powerful jammers. The Soviet ground-based radar operators reported the heavy jamming as soon as it became apparent. The sector air defense commander ordered Afrikanda and Malyavr to scramble at once. The number of fighters available was limited following NATO airstrikes earlier that morning but roughly sixteen MiG-23s and twelve Su-27 Flankers were launched as a group of Fulcrums took off from an airbase farther inland to cover the airfields in the central area of the peninsula.

The MiGs and Flankers were detected by the E-2C Hawkeye flying near the Norwegian coastline. With the Soviet radars still likely disrupted by the jamming, the mission commander ordered the escorting F-14s to activate their radars and engage the Soviet fighters. The Tomcats did just that. AWG-9 radars went on and the fighters rocketed ahead of the ARM and cluster-bomb laden A-7 Corsairs they were guarding. Phoenix missiles started coming off the rails next and speeding towards the defending fighters. The Phoenix was a missile designed for use mainly against enemy bombers. It was nowhere near as effective against fighters, the mission commander and Tomcat crews knew. Once the AIM-54s were off, the Tomcats followed them in and prepared to engage any surviving MiGs or Flankers with AIM-7 Sparrows. The Phoenixes scored hits, but as expected, not an overwhelming number. The MiGs and Flankers that beat the American missiles recovered and began looking for targets.

As this was going on, the first squadron of Corsairs fired a volley of AGM-88 HARM and AGM45 Shrike anti-radiation missiles at the Spoon Rest radar sites. In similar fashion to the Tomcats, the A-7s continued in and even after the ARMs had successfully knocked out the radars, they dropped cluster munitions on the sites to make certain they were destroyed. Behind them, a second Corsair squadron was spreading out and engaging the SA-2 and SA-3 sites with Walleye II glide bombs. The weapons were effective and inflicted a good amount of damage on the SAM batteries. However, it cost the attackers a pair of aircraft, both lost to SA-3s. As the US warplanes started to egress away from the SAM and radar sites, a limited number of longer-range SA-5 missiles were launched from batteries around Severomorsk. A Tomcat chasing a Flanker crossed into the path of one and exploded in a spectacular fireball, and another A-7 was lost.

In total the late-morning missions over the Kola had cost CVW-6 four aircraft, all lost to surface-to-air missiles. Even more worrisome than the losses was the fact that the more capable and advanced SAMs had not even been touched yet. The SA-5 and SA-10 batteries arrayed around Severomorsk needed to be dealt with before the shipyards and other facilities of the Red Banner Northern Fleet were targeted.

CVW-7 would have the honor of going after these air defense sites a bit later in the day.

12 Replies to “The North Atlantic D+14 (23 July, 1987) Part II”

  1. Only four. I expected more to be lost but with the earlier strikes along with the Jamming, I suppose the low number is appropriate. Every loss is going to be noticed though- Carrier birds are absolutely a finite resource because there are NOT that many of them available. Not like there is a lot more of land-based air but there is a larger pool for the NATO air forces to draw from.

    The more capable SAM sites are going to be a problem… and to get them, I suspect NATO will be needing a little more oomph with the CVW7 effort. Either Land-Based or additional CV birds.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I expected more losses as well. Even simmed it twice to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

      Yeah, the real problems are coming once they have to contend with the SA-5s and -10s. Nasty missiles

      Liked by 2 people

      1. They’ll be making a debut either in the coming post (Part III) or at the start of D+14 North Atlantic. Either way, they will be discussed for the first time in Part III

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually, numbers are correct, given historical precedents, remember the main impact of the SAMs was to drive aircraft to fly lower and into the AAA kill zones. As the strike packages are standing off, the number of losses per mission is low, but as they accumulate, they may impair the ability of the carriers to keep on attacking.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very true. And now that the more capable SAM sites are going to be encountered next, there might be heavier losses. Which will bring on new tactics to keep the carrier air wings doing their job

      Liked by 2 people

  3. For all that the phenix was biult as a bomber killer, it was a surprisingly powerful and nimble missile, with a larg no escape zone. Iran had no trouble hitting mig-21s, mig 23, mig 25 and merage f1 with them, only stopping when they ran out of missiles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder how accurate those stories are. The one time the US Navy had the chance to use Phoenixes against No Fly Zone aircraft violators in Iraq, it ended badly. No kills and some embarrassed pilots


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