Even the US can’t shoot down the Tu-95 from the launch point

One of the possibilities for the war to stop and for Russia to sit down at the negotiating table is the downing of a bomber over Russian territory. In fact, this is a theory that can often be found in the Ukrainian media. It often appears after reports of an upcoming missile attack from Russia. A little or a lot, but there may be a grain of truth in such a statement.

Netherlands buys 96 GEM ballistic missiles for its Patriots
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The problem to be solved is how to shoot down a bomber, say a Tu-95MS at the geolocation point of launching Russian cruise missiles from the “belly of the bomber”? It is a question of interception and shooting down the route starting from the Caspian Sea – the most frequently used position by Russia to strike Ukraine.

The Russians know very well the capabilities of the enemy’s air defense. It is not about Ukraine, or Turkey, or Poland. We are talking about systems, no matter what, that is capable of intercepting and shooting down the T-95MS at a distance of say 1,000 km. Such long-range air defense systems do not exist – neither in Russia, nor in the USA, nor anywhere in the world.

The closest approach to such an operational range is perhaps the latest Russian air defense system, the S-500 Prometey. According to claims from open sources and among the Russian media, the range of the system is 800 km or 500 mi. But this is the maximum permissible range, under strictly defined conditions. Like any other system, depending on the enemy aircraft in the air, the range generally decreases.

Russia has lifted Tu-95 strategic missile bombers into the air
Photo credit: Wikipedia

On the other hand, the US has the Patriot and THAAT systems. But both cannot handle the 800 km – 1,000 km range. Patriot’s range is about 160 km, while THAAT’s is 200 km. These two systems cannot reach the Russian T-95SM bombers from the launch point of the cruise missiles. Other air defense systems developed around the world also vary within the limits of the American ones, or less. It is technically impossible to clearly shoot down a bomber over Russian territory. Yes, this is the advantage of the large territory, and as we have always said – geography is fundamental to the success or failure of an operation. [Off topic: This is why we think Taiwan has a very serious problem in going to war with China].

Ukrainian media recall that there is a system in the world that exceeds the scope of even THAAT but by a little and still not enough. It is about the Soviet design S-200. According to the available information, the S-200 can shoot down an air body at a distance of 240-250 km maximum under certain upgrades and circumstances. But the S-200 is a rather outdated design, and it is quite debatable whether it will be operational and effective in today’s war and countermeasures.

Since the beginning of the war, there has been a claim that the Russian S-300V4 air defense system managed to shoot down a Ukrainian Su-27 at a distance of 217 km. Even if this is true, it appears to be far insufficient to fulfill the idea of a long-range bomber downing.

The situation with radar capabilities is a little better. Although it is difficult to “light” a bomber at 1,000 km, it is quite possible to do so at 800 km. The American E-3 Sentry aircraft can detect traffic in the air at a distance of 500 km. With certain tangential data, it can reach another 300 km more, i.e. 800 km. But as mentioned above, even if a T-95MS is seen in the air, no system can take the distance and shoot down the Russian bomber.

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It is technically possible to detect the launch of enemy cruise missiles from bombers over the Caspian Sea, but there is no way to “get” there. If we try to think “outside the box” we will remember the desire of Ukraine to acquire F-16.

We have analyzed that combined defense [air-ground] works, especially when the systems are autonomous and share information. Assuming that radar provided coordinates for the launch of an air-to-air interceptor missile, the question remains whether such a missile exists. Here again, the idea encounters a problem – no, there is no beyond-visual-range rocket that can overcome the distance.

Russia’s R-37M air-to-air cruise missile is said to have the longest range of any existing missile of its class in the world. According to open data, the range of the missile reaches a distance of 398 km. There is evidence that the missile was used in the war in Ukraine and hit Su-27 at large distance, as the R-37M was launched by a Su-57 fighter.

If we remove the Russian missile from the equation [this missile also cannot reach the bomber], the next best in the world remains namely the French Meteor. However, the range of Meteor reaches up to 200 km. Even a fighter-launched range will be increased, but not by much and again not enough. And if we are talking about the F-16 – Meteor cannot be integrated into the F-16.

R-37M russian air-to-air missile
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The idea of shooting down a T-95MS or Tu-160M2 over Russia is just an idea for now. Technically, it turns out to be an impossible task for the existing air defense systems.


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