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A lonely US Navy A-7 intercepting a formation of Soviet Tu-16 Badger bombers.
Developed to meet a Soviet Ministry of Defense requirement for a fast bomber that would counter the threat posed by NATO, the Tupolev Tu-16 (NATO reporting name: Badger) was a ground-breaking project. It was the first Soviet medium bomber to feature swept wings, and it was built around a pair of turbojets that were the world’s most powerful jet engines at the time. First flown in 1952, the Tu-16 filled such roles as reconnaissance, Electronic Counter Measures, nuclear bomb delivery and missile strike.
When the Badger entered service, it was used to monitor the movements of NATO carrier task forces. In the 1960s and 1970s Western aviation publications were full of photographs showing Soviet Tu-16s flying over the decks of US Navy and Royal Navy aircraft carriers.
Tu-16 Badger “simulated” attack on two US Carriers
‘I once intercepted a Badger “simulated” attack on two US Carriers operating in the Sea of Japan in 1986. The Badgers were out of Vladivostok. It was about 3 am in the morning. 5–6 aircraft. The formation sped quickly (450kts+) towards the carrier battle group, reached their presumed “launch position” about 100 miles away, and then turned back and slowed down to return home.
‘My job was to verify that there were no missiles on the Badger’s wings, which there weren’t any… So, we knew it was just a simulated attack. Using the carrier battle group as training. The carrier had spotted these aircraft very shortly after takeoff and was tracking them for well over a hundred miles before they turned back.
Flying inside a formation of Soviet Badger bombers
‘Got to admit…it was weird flying inside a formation of Soviet Badger aircraft in the pitch black of night…and they didn’t have their lights on. (My lights were on full display, so they knew for sure I was there.)
‘Creeeeepy. I’m sure the Soviet strike leader was none too happy to have this Navy jet along with them, moving from plane to plane to ascertain they weren’t carrying any anti-ship missiles.’
‘In the end, the Badgers turned back. I left the formation. We tracked them all the way back to Vlad. I returned to the carrier just in time to catch an early breakfast, then hit the rack.
‘Just another Tuesday in Naval Aviation.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy