Monday, April 13, 2015

Russians intercept US reconnaissance plane - Updated Story

A Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter flies in international airspace near the Baltic States in this photograph taken on June 17, 2014 and received via Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London on June 18, 2014. Photo courtesy of RAF/MoD.
The AP is reporting the U.S. is protesting an intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance plane by a Russian fighter jet last week, calling it "unsafe and unprofessional" amid what it views as increasingly aggressive air operations by Moscow.

The Pentagon says that a U.S. RC-135U plane was flying in international airspace north of Poland. U.S. officials say a Russian SU-27 fighter intercepted the U.S. aircraft at a high rate of speed from the rear, and then proceeded to conduct two more passes using "unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers" in close proximity.

It isn't the first time the U.S. has protested to Moscow what it considered to be an unsafe intercept. Last April, a Russian fighter jet intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk.

Blog Editor's Note: Media reports indicate that this event occurred on 7 April 2015. A quick check of Mode-S logs for that day indicated the only RC-135U airborne that day was RC-135U 64-14849 (Hex code AE01D5) with a mode-s call sign of Telex 97 and yes it was over Poland/Estonia/Finland area between 1000-1300 UTC. Interestingly, based on the database it looks like that aircraft did not fly the next day. This aircraft is still in theater today and has flown the last 3 days using a mod-s call sign of Cuppy 50. Time to pay closer attention to those foxtrot messages.

Full AP story at

RC-135U Combat Sent

The RC-135U Combat Sent provides strategic electronic reconnaissance information to the president, secretary of defense, Department of Defense leaders, and theater commanders. Locating and identifying foreign military land, naval and airborne radar signals, the Combat Sent collects and minutely examines each system, providing strategic analysis for warfighters. Collected data is also stored for further analysis by the joint warfighting and intelligence communities. The Combat Sent deploys worldwide and is employed in peacetime and contingency operations.

All RC-135U aircraft are equipped with an aerial refueling system, giving it an unlimited flying range. Communication equipment includes high frequency, very high frequency, and ultra high frequency radios. The navigation equipment incorporates ground navigation radar, a solid state Doppler system, and an inertial navigation system that merges celestial observations and Global Positioning System data. Although the flight crew stations are similarly configured, the reconnaissance equipment is slightly unique within each airframe.

The aircraft are identified by their distinctive antennae arrays on the "chin" and wing tips, large cheek fairings, and extended tail.

Crew composition includes two pilots, one navigator, two airborne systems engineers, and a minimum of 10 electronic warfare officers, or "Ravens," and six or more electronic, technical, and area specialists.

There are only two Combat Sent aircraft in the Air Force inventory and both are assigned to the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Neb. The RC-135U aircraft are manned by Air Combat Command crews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron and the 97th Intelligence Squadron (of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency). The Combat Sent is composed of a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf and proprietary hardware and software. Its current configuration allows for both manual and automatic analysis of electronic signals. By combining manual systems with the Automatic Electronic Emitter Locating System, Ravens and intelligence specialists can simultaneously locate, identify, and analyze multiple electronic signals.

The Combat Sent records these signals for future reference or for extensive analysis by electronic systems theorists. Any information garnered from the data will help determine detailed operating characteristics and capabilities of foreign systems. Evasion techniques and equipment are then developed from this knowledge that will detect, warn of, or defeat these electronic systems.

General Characteristics
Primary function: Electronic intelligence reconnaissance and surveillance
Contractor: Boeing Aerospace
Power Plant: Four CFM International F108-CF-201 high bypass turbofan engines
Thrust: 21,600 pounds per engine
Wingspan: 135 feet, 1 inch (41.4 meters)
140 feet, 1 inch (42.6 meters)
Height: 41 feet, 8 inches (12.7 meters)
Weight: 165,7000 (75,160 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 299,000 pounds (135,626.4 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 130,000 pounds (58,967 kilograms)
Speed: 500+ miles per hour (Mach 0.66)
Range: 4,000 nautical miles
Ceiling: 35,000+ feet (10,668+ meters)
Crew: Two pilots, one navigator, two airborne systems engineers, and a minimum of 10 electronic warfare officers (flight crew from 45th RS) and six or more mission area specialists (mission crew from 97th IS)
Unit Cost: Not available
Initial operational capability: April 1964
Inventory: Active force, 2; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0