Two Russian Tu-142s fly 15 hours for over-the-horizon radar tuning

Recently, F-35A fighters from the Royal Norwegian Air Force intercepted and escorted two Russian Tupolev Tu-142MK maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft over the Bay of Biscay, off the west coast of France. Sources from central Europe suggest these aircraft were on a special mission. 

Tu-142 anti-submarine warfare aircraft detected enemy submarines
Photo by Fedor Leukhin

According to the German publication Flug Revue, the flight lasted 15 hours, covering a distance of 10,000 km from the Bay of Biscay to the North Atlantic. The mission began in Kipelovo and was reportedly intended to calibrate a new over-the-horizon radar installed near Nizhny Novgorod. 

In addition to the Tu-142s, Russian Tu-95 bombers have been spotted flying near the coast of Alaska. NORAD reported that a Tu-95 entered the Air Defense Identification Zone [ADIZ] and remained there for about four hours. In response, the U.S. and Canada scrambled F-22A Raptors and CF-18 fighters to intercept and escort the Russian bombers.

Two Russian Tu-142s fly 15 hours for over-the-horizon radar tuning
Photo credit: Reddit

Detecting and tracking

Over-the-horizon radar calibration is not a combat mission but a practical or test mission. But what exactly is radar calibration in this scenario, and what is the role of the Russian Tu-142s? 

The Tu-142MK maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft plays a crucial role in over-the-horizon radar [OTHR] calibration flights. These aircraft are equipped with advanced sensors and electronic systems that can detect and track surface and subsurface targets over vast distances. The primary objective of these calibration flights is to fine-tune the radar systems to ensure they provide accurate and reliable data. 

Tu-142 anti-submarine warfare aircraft detected enemy submarines
Photo by Alexander Kazakov

During the calibration process, the Tu-142MK aircraft flies specific patterns and maneuvers over designated areas. These flights are meticulously planned to cover various environmental conditions and altitudes. The data collected by the aircraft’s sensors is then transmitted back to the radar operators, who use it to adjust the radar’s parameters.

Test platform

The Tu-142MK’s role in these calibration flights is not just limited to data collection. The aircraft also serves as a test platform for new radar technologies and techniques. By flying in different scenarios, the Tu-142MK helps researchers and engineers understand how the radar performs in real-world conditions. 

Two Russian Tu-142s fly 15 hours for over-the-horizon radar tuning
Photo credit: Reddit

In addition to its role in radar calibration, the Tu-142MK aircraft also provides valuable training opportunities for radar operators and analysts. By working with real-world data collected during these flights, personnel can develop their skills and gain a deeper understanding of the radar’s capabilities and limitations.

What equipment is in the Tu-142MK?

One of the primary systems is the ‘Korshun-K’ radar, which is used for surface search and target acquisition. Another key component is the ‘Berkut-95 magnetic anomaly detector [MAD]. This system is designed to detect minute variations in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the presence of large metallic objects, such as submarines. 

Tu-142 anti-submarine warfare aircraft detected enemy submarines
Photo by Commander VC Pandey

The Tu-142MK also features an advanced sonar system, including sonobuoys that can be deployed from the aircraft. In addition to these systems, the Tu-142MK is equipped with electronic support measures [ESM] to intercept and analyze electronic emissions from potential targets. This capability enables the aircraft to gather intelligence on the electronic environment and identify the presence of enemy submarines or surface ships based on their electronic signatures. 

The aircraft’s onboard data processing and communication systems integrate the information from these various detection and tracking systems, providing a comprehensive picture of the maritime environment. This integration allows for real-time analysis and decision-making, enhancing the effectiveness of the Tu-142MK in its ASW and reconnaissance roles.

What do we know about Container OTHR?

over-the-horizon radar system Container
Photo credit: Dzen

The Radar [29B6] “Container” is a modern Russian over-the-horizon radar system for wide-area aerial surveillance and early detection of ballistic missiles. Located in Mordovia, Russia, its first station became operational on December 1, 2019, after being initially commissioned in December 2013. This advanced radar can monitor airspace up to 100 kilometers high and has a range of 3,000 kilometers. It was developed by NPK NIIDAR, the same team behind the Voronezh-DM radar. 

The system has two types of antenna arrays: one for transmitting signals and one for receiving them. The receiving array has 144 antenna masts, each 34 meters tall, divided into three sections. The middle section is 900 meters wide with masts spaced 7 meters apart, while the two outer sections are each 200 meters wide with masts spaced 14 meters apart. Overall, the receiving array covers 1,300 meters and includes three such arrays set in an equilateral triangle. The transmitter array has 36 masts that can be adjusted and is 440 meters wide. 

Radio enthusiasts have picked up radar signals in the 9.2–19.745 MHz range. These signals pulse 50 times per second, have a bandwidth of about 14 kHz, and use frequency modulation. The sound is similar to the “Russian Woodpecker” from the 1970s and 80s.

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