While Russian media and the defense ministry hailed the latest successful intercept of three US B-52 bombers over the Black Sea on Friday, which involved no less than eight Russian fighters dispatched, a new report in Forbes says the Pentagon has been using such intercept incidents over Eastern Europe as a "trap" in order to gain valuable flight data on the Russian fighters' advanced sensors and communication equipment:
On Aug. 28, a U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber flew through international air space over the Black Sea. Russian air force Su-27 fighters rose to the meet the B-52, zooming so close to the lumbering bomber that the fighters’ twin afterburners rattled the American crew.
American officials objected to the “unnecessary” harassment of their bomber. But the joke was on the Russians. For the B-52 was merely bait in an elaborate, and ongoing, intelligence trap.
The report describes that at the very moment the Russian fighters were coming extremely close to the B-52, even reportedly limiting its movement and coming within a mere 100 feet, two US RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic-intelligence planes were nearby scooping up useful data on the Su-27 aircraft.
Ultimately the "trap" netted valuable intelligence on the Russian anti-air response and technology.
The initial "intelligence trap" intercept from a week ago over the Black Sea:
USAF video of an ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ intercept of a B-52 by a Russian SU-27 over the Black Sea. pic.twitter.com/k7lzNseIJJ— Andy Netherwood (@AndyNetherwood) August 30, 2020
Forbes details further that with this latest Sept. 4 Black Sea incident involving eight Russian fighters scrambled, the US Air Force did the same:
Exactly a week later, the Americans and their friends did it again. Today at least one B-52 flew through Ukraine and skirted the edge of the Black Sea just miles from Russian forces on the Crimean Peninsula. Two other B-52s were exercising over Ukraine around the same time, according to U.S. European Command. It’s unclear whether all three flew the same track near Crimea.
The report emphasizes of this last encounter that "A pair of RC-135V/Ws meanwhile flew over the Black Sea, close enough to Crimea—and to the B-52—to intercept signals from any Russian radars tracking the bomber."
Open source radar analysis appears to show this:
The wisdom of operations like these eludes me. There is a difference between necessary deterrence and unnecessary provocation. pic.twitter.com/dWVCGT6ToB— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) September 4, 2020
Meanwhile Russian defense officials hailed these latest successes against the B-52 bombers to "prevent their unauthorized incursion into the Russian airspace."
"The National Defense Control Center pointed out that after the US aircraft had flown away from the border of the Russian Federation, the Russian fighter jets returned to home airbases," TASS writes.
Interestingly, the Forbes report notes that Russia could actually be doing the same thing back to the Americans — that is, sweeping up intelligence on the American aircraft by deploying spy planes which monitor these intercepts, making the uptick in such close encounters which have been ongoing since the start of this year a kind of cat-and-mouse intelligence gathering drama.