North Atlantic: Death Of The Backfires D+24 (2 August, 1987) Part IV

The Bears were now the prey and the aircrews were fully aware of it. There were armed predators out there beyond the horizon actively searching. The hunt was on and the crews of the Tu-95s were well aware their life expectancy was now being measured in minutes. The raid commander knew this too and he struggled with deciding what the next move would be. He could allow the Bears activate their radars now and hope for one of them to put together a radar picture of the enemy carrier formations before being dispatched by marauding Phoenix-armed F-14s. Or he could allow them to fly on without emitting. With luck one aircraft might stumble across the path of an American carrier group. The third option was the least appealing. It centered on ordering the Badger J aircraft to activate their powerful jammers early to run interference for the Bears. This could potentially give the reconnaissance aircraft additional precious minutes to continue their critical task without having to worry about the presence of enemy fighters. Or perhaps not. When all was said and done it was the raid commander’s decision and he had little time to make it.

Yet once he had, the second-guessing was shoved to the back of his mind, and he pressed forward with the mission.

Of the four Badger J aircraft that had taken off from the Kola, two were positioned between the Bears and bomber force. One was situated with the Backfires and the final plane was forced to abort due to engine issues. The lead pair turned on their jammers. As this was happening, the raid commander broke radio silence and ordered the Bears to activate their Big Bulge radars. 

At the first indication of enemy jamming, the US response takes shape immediately as the Strike Fleet air defense officer and senior controllers on the Hawkeyes go to work. It is the result of tactics devised and practiced in the last week. The CAP F-14s left their patrol sectors and were vectored east and northeast towards the jamming and the anticipated direction of enemy bombers. In this case, there was only one real possibility. As the second wave of Tomcat squadrons launched from Forrestal and Kitty Hawk formed up they were directed by the Hawkeyes to push northeast. Then Tomcats that had been escorting the strike package were directed to pick up the Bear hunt from their CAP counterparts. The final step in the preparatory phase was an order to the trio of EA-6B Prowlers with the strike package to activate their jamming equipment and reorient east-northeast. Less than ten seconds after the first Prowler’s jammer went on, the first Big Bulge look down radar came up and was immediately affected.

Time became a critical factor again. The raid commander estimated it would take the Americans another seven to eight minutes to burn through the wall of jamming put forth by his EW aircraft. This block of time was the golden period, so to speak. The electronic interference put forth by the Badgers was giving the Bears time to track down the enemy formation. To make matters worse, he was all too aware that there were carrier-borne fighters out patrolling the skies. For the second time, the Soviet raid commander had an incomplete picture and possibly obsolete information with which to make a decision. Waiting to gather additional data was a luxury the 44-year-old colonel did not have. The longer he delayed making the call, the higher the chance of mission failure became.

Finally, the raid commander made a decision. The Backfires would turn west, increase speed and descend to a far lower altitude immediately.

*One more left. Conclusion will be up on Halloween night….finally. 😊 *

6 Replies to “North Atlantic: Death Of The Backfires D+24 (2 August, 1987) Part IV”

  1. This was the war I first trained for in the U.S. Navy. Was on a LANTFLEET carrier that exercised in the Vestafjord of Norway practicing against the Soviet bear. Exciting, but so glad it’s now fiction instead of a deadly past history.

    Liked by 1 person

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