The Northern Flank D+16 (25 July, 1987) Part II

Moscow’s warning about continued NATO air operations over the Kola was being taken seriously by the United States and its NATO allies. On the previous day, Strike Fleet Atlantic’s aircraft had, in large part, left the Kola alone. AFNORTH, at the direction of Brussels, followed suit on D+16. The early morning air missions against targets on the Kola were postponed. This was soon expanded to include the entire day. In a sense this was beneficial for the aircrews and warplanes that had been scheduled to head north that morning and beyond. In the place of combat sorties, maintenance issues on a number of aircraft could be properly addressed. Tactics and BDA were reviewed at length and changes were made where they were needed.

Generally speaking,  NATO’s strategy, as well as the tactics employed over the Kola were both effective and sound. There was always room for improvement and revisions, however. One area which needed some brushing up now was the employment of laser guided bombs. Most of the SAS and Special Forces teams that were positioned around Soviet airbases and other targets had either been extracted by friendly forces, or been killed or captured. Moving forward now, laser targeting had to be handled by aircrews. In fighter-bombers like the F-111 and Tornado, this was not a major issue. Each fighter bomber was able to carry the proper equipment and had a dedicated weapons system officer to handle weapons targeting and release responsibilities. For aircraft like the single-seat F-16, it was more complicated. The pause gave aircrews and planners an opportunity to review the issue and work on new tactics to make the single-seat fighters more adaptive GBU platforms.

Although restricted from Soviet airspace, NATO aircraft were active over Northern Norway, primarily in the areas around friendly and enemy ground forces. Close air support and other tactical missions were flown throughout most of the day. Higher in the skies overhead, NATO fighters and MiGs clashed repeatedly as Soviet efforts to establish air superiority over friendly ground forces picked up.  The Soviets didn’t have as many fighters to dedicate to the effort as hoped, but the addition of long-range SAM batteries late in the afternoon helped to even the odds somewhat. The Soviets couldn’t stretch themselves too thin on the air defense front though. Not with three NATO aircraft carriers within range of the Kola. Carriers that were, at the moment, suspiciously quiet.

Conditions in the littoral waters of Norway around the North Cape remained in stalemate through D+16. Each side were satisfied by the other’s inability to make progress and claim the waters of the North Cape for their own purposes. For NATO this needed to change if an effort against the SSBN bastion was ever to materialize. To the Soviets, the North Cape needed to remain closed for exactly that reason. It was the door to  attacks on the ballistic-missile submarines, and to the Kola Peninsula itself.

D+16 was a quiet day on the Northern Flank, relatively speaking. Future historians look back upon it as a time out of sorts, a brief period where the two teams attempted to gather themselves for the final minutes of the contest. A fitting comparison, if a bit too simplified for the circumstances at the time. In any event, plenty of fighting remained on the Northern Flank and the eventual outcome of the entire war could still be decided there.

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