The next round of NATO air missions against targets on the Kola peninsula started at 0230. It soon became clear the focus of the early morning sorties would be different from what it had been just twenty-four hours before. Fighter bases and long-range radar sites were the primary targets. The NATO fighter-bombers were accompanied in by a heavier-than-normal fighter screen, and electronic warfare support was also exceptionally strong.
The jamming drew Soviet air commanders to action. Scramble orders were issued, combat air patrols already airborne were redirected to form protective cover over airfields that were home to bombers and long-range reconnaissance aircraft. Radar sites, and the Soviet’s own EW sites immediately went to work attempting to defeat the jamming. As the NATO aircraft approached their intended targets, and fighters from both sides clashed in the dusky skies, one Soviet air commander was growing suspicious.
The commander of the 10th Independent Air Defense Army was increasingly convinced that something was off. As the minutes passed by, NATO’s focus seemed to be exclusively fixated on keeping the MiGs and radars occupied for an extended period of time. Under normal circumstances that would make sense given that the intended targets were heavily defended bomber airbases. But when enemy bombs began falling on fighter bases instead, the commander was immediately on guard. The realization that this was not simply another series of NATO air attacks flooded over him moments later. This was something more.
His first thought was that the NATO effort was intended to pave the way for a strategic attack against the Soviet Union. America’s nuclear war plans made it clear that a large number of its strategic bombers were going to be dedicated to either attacking targets on the Kola or using the peninsula as a penetration point to enter Soviet airspace. The possibility of this looming was enough to push him to action. Warning messages were sent to Northwestern TVD headquarters and the Ministry of Defense in Moscow. A number of MiG-31 Foxhound and Su-15 Flagon interceptors were launched and then placed in holding patterns over the White Sea and western edges of the Kola until the situation became clearer. The Foxhound and Flagon were anti-bomber interceptors, the main defense against American bombers like the B-52 and FB-111. Not very capable dogfighters and therefore useless to the air battle still raging over the center of the peninsula, but invaluable to the defense of the Motherland against nuclear-armed aircraft.
As 0400 approached, the 10th Independent Air Army’s commander allowed himself to breathe easier. No nuclear bombers followed up the first NATO air strikes and fighter sweep, and the last enemy aircraft were departing his airspace. He next turned his attention to the initial damage reports coming into his headquarters from fighter airbases and radar sites that had been targeted. If these were accurate, he decided he could live with the damage and losses for the moment. He ordered the Foxhounds and Flagons still airborne to return to their bases, now confident their services were not going to be needed on this morning. Then he started to consider the fallout his attack warnings to Severomorsk, and Moscow had caused, and how to clean up that mess before it cost him his command.
The lieutenant general was waiting for a connection to the theater commander’s headquarters when a radar operator’s warning stole his attention. A second group of NATO aircraft was now approaching Soviet airspace. Before he could even grasp this, the neat, orderly display on the radar screen his eyes had locked onto became an electronic jumble. He knew what the cause of it was before his action officer gave his report.
“Heavy jamming activity is appearing over northern Norway.”