Monday, November 3, 2014

XLT: Why NATO Fears Russian Exercises

                                 [Translation of Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper article]

November 3, 2014
By Anton Balagin

In peacetime, every military drains its soul in exercises. Moreover, such maneuvers by Russian military forces causes a nervous reaction, more like fear, from NATO. At times, not only are government officials and the press scared, but also professional military troops. We found out why this is happening.

"Sukhoi" versus "Aegis"

The encounter of a Russian bomber with the U.S. Navy destroyer DONALD COOK is worthy of a place in military training manuals as an example of an effective psychological attack. On April 12, an unarmed SU-24, which took off from Shagol (Chelyabinsk) Airbase, was flying over the Black Sea and approached the new American combatant ship, which is armed with cruise missiles and the latest “Aegis” command and control system. After the encounter, DONALD COOK quickly headed to the Romanian port of Constanța where, according to media reports, 27 sailors from the destroyer’s crew requested to be released from service. On April 14, the Pentagon released an emotional statement in which the SU-24 flight was called a violation of military traditions and international agreements.

What really upset the Americans? The Aegis system, with which the destroyer is equipped, is the latest word in technology in terms of detecting and destroying seaborne and airborne targets. It brings together the radars, fire control systems, and missiles of all ships equipped with it into a single network resembling a naval internet. Aegis radars can simultaneously track and target missiles at hundreds of targets located thousands of kilometers away. Altogether, a magnificent system.

But in place of bombs or missiles, the SU-24s approaching DONALD COOK carried a container with a Khibina radio-electronic warfare system. After approaching the ship, the Khibina systems turned off its [the destroyer’s] smart radar, combat control links, and data transfer systems – in a word, the entire Aegis, like we turn off a television with the push of a button on a remote. Afterwards, the fighter-bombers conducted a simulated missile attack on the blind and deaf destroyer. Then another and then... a total of 12 combat approaches.

DONALD COOK never approached Russian waters again. Nor did NATO ships that relieved it in the Black Sea.

The Russians are Coming!

Flying over American ships is a time-honored tradition for our pilots. In Soviet times, TU-95 strategic bombers would sneak up, undetected, to American aircraft carriers in the Atlantic and perform low-level flyovers while photographing their equipment and showing them friendly gestures through the windows. In naval parlance, this is called demonstrating the flag. The encounters occurred in neutral waters and, from the view of international law, were absolutely without reproach.

The U.S. wasn’t taken to court after, in August, Northern Fleet ships detected an American Virginia-class submarine in waters adjacent to the Barents Sea and forced it to leave the area. Everyone trains: when one penetrates, others detect and thwart. Some succeed, others don’t.

Each flight by Russian bombers along U.S. borders and its allies causes a storm of indignation by NATO. Fighters are scrambled to intercept, and then a whirlwind is stirred up in the press. In the end, some important official rises to the NATO pulpit in Brussels to call the incident “another provocation by Russia.” By the way, such flights – near Chinese borders, let’s say – are performed regularly by American bombers. And they conduct large-scale exercises there. And U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion intelligence collection aircraft patrol near Russia’s eastern borders, and our MIG-31s scramble to intercept. And no one objects – everyone trains.

Incidentally, TU-160 flights far from Russia that unnerve the West – they are not just combat training or demonstrating the flag. Intercepting a super-sonic strategic bomber is a very expensive luxury. Whereas super-sonic is cruising speed for a “White Swan” [TU-160], for fighters chasing it such speeds require the exertion of all of their forces – afterburners at a minimum. Which is harmful to the engine’s service life. And for an F-22 Raptor, each such flight turns into repairs of its priceless, in the true sense of the word, stealth coating.

Where are We?

Sometimes there is no need for the Russian military to scare its colleagues from the North Atlantic bloc or western journalists – NATO does that successfully on its own. Not too long ago, residents of the small Polish town of Gruta, 220 kilometers north of Warsaw, were on the brink of panic when they saw foreign military helicopters in a rapeseed field next to the town.

Recalling World War II, elder residents thought that the Germans had again invaded, while younger residents believed that the Russians were coming. Additionally, soldiers in foreign uniforms poured out of the helicopters and began wandering around the town trying to find out from passersby where they had ended up. They asked in English.

They turned out to be American helicopters that had become lost on a return trip from exercises held in Latvia. Six UH-60 Black Hawks were flying to the Polish airbase in Mirosławiec, but fell behind the main group and got lost. Finding a farmer who understood a little English, the pilots unfolded a map and asked him to show where their current location. He did, and the mayor of Gruta presented the Americans with a pamphlet that described the local attractions.

One of the most effective points of that exercise (besides the forced landing of the Black Hawks in the rapeseed field) was the assault landing of 500 troops at the Latvian airport of Lielvārde. “But there, the NATO military personnel at least knew where they had landed,” wrote an El Mundo military affairs reporter.