Military Aviation

News of F-35 ‘Epic Failure’ in Intercepting Tu-160 Mach 2 Bomber Was an Epic Fake. But there’s a Video Animation that Doesn’t Seem to Think So…

The Russian media reports used strikingly similar language and appeared to be copy-pasted from a single source, the Chinese news agency Sina. Yet, the Sina report cited Russia’s Sputnik state-owned media outlet, which in turn cited Sina as its source. Thus, it is impossible to determine the precise origins of the story.

As we have previously reported, on Nov. 8, 2019 Russian media sparked rumors that on Nov. 3, a Russian Tu-160 (NATO reporting name Blackjack) supersonic bomber allegedly outran two US-built F-35A stealth fighters after they intercepted the Blackjack which was performing a routine training flight over the Sea of Japan.

“Two American fifth-generation F-35 Lightning fighters attempted to intercept one of our bomber’s during a flight over the Sea of Japan. But what happened is what, in the language of young people, is called an epic failure. The crew of our strategic bomber put the engines into afterburner mode and easily broke away from the pursuers. The Americans failed to keep up with the Russian aircraft,” Izvestia Russian newspaper said.

But according to Polygraph.info things went quite differently. Here’s what the news outlet said.

“These reports trended on some of Russia’s top news agencies, including RIA Novosti, Sputnik.ru, and Lenta.ru, and the government newspapers Rossiskaya Gazeta and Trud, as well as two military websites — Topwar.ru, the website of Voennoe Obozrenie (Military Review), and VVS.moscow, the website of Dalnyaya Aviatsia VVS RF (Long-Range Aviation of Russia’s Air Force).

“According to the reports, on Nov.3, two U.S. fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II fighter jets attempted to intercept a Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber during a scheduled flight in the neutral skies over the Sea of Japan. The Russian pilot masterfully put his machine into afterburner mode and escaped its pursuers, leaving just a glimpse of the giant bomber on the Americans’ flight radars. This despite the fact that the 110-ton Russian Tu-160 is nearly three times heavier than the 13-ton U.S. F-35s. The Russian media reports also described the Tu-160 as an outdated veteran of the Soviet air force, while the fifth generation F-35 Lightening II is the most modern and highly praised U.S. fighter aircraft.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

“The Russian media reports used strikingly similar language and appeared to be copy-pasted from a single source — the Chinese news agency Sina.

“Yet, the Sina report cited Russia’s Sputnik state-owned media outlet, which in turn cited Sina as its source. Thus, it is impossible to determine the precise origins of the story.

“Whatever its origins, the story seems to be fake.

“The Russian media reports suggest that the U.S. fighters forced the Russian bomber to divert from its scheduled course. But there was no record of any such incident over the Sea of Japan on Nov. 3 in several aviation incident tracking databases, which include “forced diversion-military” type incidents globally.

“The Russian media reports also compared the weights of the Tu-160 and F-35 at the time of the “incident,” providing figures that cannot be accurate – 110 tons vs 13 tons. These numbers only reflect the weight of the aircraft without fuel. The maximum takeoff weight is 275 tons for a Tu-160 and 35 tons for an F-35.”

Furthermore “the defense committee of the State Duma (the lower house of Russia’s parliament) told the weekly newspaper Voenno-Promyshlenny Kurier (Military-Industrial Courier) that there were no Tu-160 flights over the Sea of Japan in November or any other time during 2019.”

However, the beautifully made 3D Animation featured in this post which shows Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-35 Fighters Intercepting Russian Tu-160 Bombers seems to depict a different scenario.

At 2:05 in the video in fact the bombers light their afterburners and leave the Lightning IIs behind.

Okay, what about now? Is the Tu-160 really able to outrun the F-35?

Since the Tu-160 has a top speed of Mach 2.05 (1570 mph) while the F-35A reaches Mach 1.6 (1200 mph), the easy answer would be yes. But, would the Blackjack be able to evade the AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles the Lightning II would carry during a QRA mission?

Well, we think the only answer is waiting for the first true encounter between the two types and seeing what happens.

We will keep you updated.

For now, just enjoy the following, cool video animation.

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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