Two Tu-160s have flown over the Baltic region. NATO, Finnish and Swedish fighters shadowed the Russian Blackjacks which were escorted by Su-35s.
Two Russian Aerospace Forces Tu-160 Blackjacks carried out an 8-hour mission that brought the bombers off the Baltic States on Sept. 21, 2021. According to the Russian MOD, the two strategic missile carriers performed a planned flight in airspace over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea.
As happened last time the Tu-160s from Engels-2 Air Base in Saratov, Oblast, southwestern Russia, the Russian Long Range Aviation (LRA) trip in the Baltic region caused several NATO, Finnish and Swedish aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) to support Baltic Air Policing (BAP) to scramble.
Два стратегических бомбардировщика Ту-160 выполнили полет над Балтийским морем, на отдельных участках их сопровождали иностранные военные самолеты.
На отдельных этапах маршрута их сопровождали истребители F-16 ВВС Италии и ВВС Дании, F-18 ВВС Финляндии, SaabJAS-39 Gripen. pic.twitter.com/aSlHypURuE
— Записки охотника (@galandecZP) September 21, 2021
The video released by the Russian MOD shows some of the fighters that were dispatched to identify and shadow the Russian “package” as it operated in international airspace: you can clearly see an Italian Air Force Typhoon currently deployed to Amari for Baltic Eagle II where they replaced the F-35As (the Russian MOD press release did mention the Italian fighters but misidentified them as F-16s) and Royal Danish Air Force F-16s. Finnish Air Force F-18s and Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripens were also launched and intercepted the Tu-160s.
Interestingly, at least one Su-35S made an appearance on Flightradar24.com, marking (to our knowledge), the very first time a Russian Flanker could be tracked online.
Unprecedented; it looks like 🇷🇺 #RuAF Sukhoi Su-35S (Reg. RF-81746, hex 1B3F52) fighter jet appeared on FR24 today during the course of its flight over the Baltic Sea (presumably an escort of Russian strategic bombers). pic.twitter.com/nAn88Ow0oZ
— Status-6 (@Archer83Able) September 21, 2021
The Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack, is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber in use and the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane ever flown. Its first flight dates back to 1981 and its induction into active service took place in 1987.
The Tu-160 took part in the Air War in the skies over Syria; at least one Tu-160 aircraft flew a strike mission on Nov. 17, 2015 that hit ISIL targets in Syria using Russian 3M-54 Kalibur cruise missiles launched at standoff range. As of 2016, the Russian Air Force’s LRA still had 16 aircraft in service. In other words it’s a rare bird.
The Russians are already working on its replacement. The new Tu-160M2s are not be rebuilt, upgraded existing Tu-160s, but rather new production aircraft coming from the Tupolev plant. The new Tu-160M2 version, includes a glass cockpit, weapons upgrades, new engines and the removal of obsolete equipment no longer relevant to the Tu-160’s mission. The first flight of the first Tu-160M2 took place on Feb. 2, 2020 and lasted 2 hours and 34 minutes. The second Tu-160M, equipped with new engines NK-32 series 02 (NK-32-02), made its maiden flight a few days ago, on Sept. 17, 2021.
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.