Alexander Rutskoi


Alexander Rutskoi flew fighter planes for the Fortieth Army. The thirty-one-year-old colonel, the son of a tank officer from the southern Kursk Region, had been assigned in 1985 to train three squadrons of mostly young lieutenants to fly the Su-25. Two of the squadrons would be based in Bagram, the third in Kandahar.

Decades earlier, Nikita Khrushchev had directed the Soviet Air Force to focus on strategic bombers and supersonic fighters instead of ground-attack aircraft. The recent arrival of the Su-25 marked one of the first major advances in the development of close air support of infantry since its prominent role in World War II, when Soviet pilots had provided vital help to infantry units facing the Wehrmacht. Rutskoi liked the new plane. Nicknamed grach, or crow, the squat, low-flying Su-25 was armed with a twin-barrel 30-mm cannon and had ten pylons under its wings that could carry thousands of pounds of weapons, including thousand-pound RBK cluster bombs, and 57-mm to 330-mm rockets. In addition to being well armed and armored, and configured for providing very close support of ground forces, the plane took rough handling well.

Compact, mustachioed Rutskoi, whose prematurely graying hair improved his good looks, had a reputation for independence and speaking his mind to his fellow officers. Rather than hold him back, those qualities had served him well, rare as that was. Now he’d been trusted to develop tactics to maximize the new fighter’s effectiveness in the dusty and otherwise adverse weather conditions often encountered when flying in hazardous mountain terrain. It was a dangerous task; Rutskoi’s predecessor had lost twelve pilots.

Fighter pilots, like their counterparts flying helicopters, rotated through Afghanistan every year, and although only parts of regiments were often deployed, there were many units. Even though helicopters were the Fortieth Army’s main air weapon, fixed-wing planes had played an important part in the war, and not only the long-winged Tu-16 and pointy-nosed Tu-22 bombers that carpet-bombed the Panjshir Valley and other areas in preparation for ground attacks. Agile MiG-21 fighters had been used as attack planes early in the conflict, but the aging craft had primitive radars, carried relatively light weapon loads, and had not been designed for close ground support. Heavier MiG-23s, which were more effective in that role, replaced many of them over the years, as did Su-17s, which carried large weapons loads.

When Rutskoi landed at the Bagram air base, it was under attack. Incoming mortars and rockets were severing heads and limbs in a battle raging on the green plain between the base and Charikar at the foot of the Panjshir Valley. “Where the hell have I arrived?” the young colonel thought. Rutskoi took some revenge later, when he came to command the base. He gathered local Afghan elders in order to warn them he would obliterate any areas used to attack the base. “I’ll turn it into the Gobi desert,” he vowed. When the next attack came two weeks later and he delivered on his promise, the attacks ceased, at least when he was known to be on the base.

Rutskoi’s squadrons were among the first to fly at night, when most caravans moved through the Hindu Kush passes, and rebels planted mines. But the cover of darkness was also useful for the Soviets: spetsnaz fighters carried out many of their ambushes and other operations at night. Highly dangerous as it was, night flying could also be highly effective. When nervous mujahideen unleashed volleys of antiaircraft fire, it was relatively easy to see from the air where it came from, then destroy the rebel positions.

Rutskoi developed a reputation for dependability. During a 1986 attack on the Panjshir Valley led by Fortieth Army Chief of Staff Yuri Grekov, mujahideen counterattacked the Soviet command center from several sides. After air squadron commanders had rebuffed Grekov’s order for air strikes because the weather was too cloudy, Grekov radioed Rutskoi in Bagram.

“How fast is the wind blowing?” the colonel asked. “And from what direction?”

Although Grekov didn’t know, he pressed a reluctant Rutskoi to bomb the mujahideen. Rutskoi relented. Flying into the valley, he dropped four massive cluster bombs and listened for the result. The explosives went off dangerously close to the Panjshir command point. It now maintained radio silence-until he heard a stream of swearing. “You fucking bastard! What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” The fury came from Grekov. “How close did you have to drop those things? We’re scraping ourselves off the ceiling!” However, the general later sent Rutskoi a case of Armenian cognac for saving the command point from immediate danger.

Helicopters rarely flew at night, when Rutskoi’s squadrons were often called on to support spetsnaz pinned down in narrow valleys. The pressure was intense; pilots wore special camel-hair jumpsuits to help wick away rivers of sweat. On long missions, they violated regulations by flying on one engine to conserve fuel. Attacking caravans in mountain passes, they sought to hit the first and last vehicles, then swooped back to finish off the others. Rutskoi’s squadrons sometimes flew up to eight sorties a day, far more than earlier units had. His own plane was hit often. Parts of it were burning during four very tricky landings at his base.

In 1987, mujahideen fighters shot down six Afghan Mi-8s close to a major rebel base in Zhawar near the Pakistani border. The Soviets had taken the complex at great cost from rebel commander Jallaladin Haqqani two years earlier, only to surrender it again when the attacking force withdrew. Rutskoi was given a reconnaissance mission to attract fire to himself over the rugged mountain terrain while another pilot photographed the source of the attacks. Five miles east of Zhawar, a U. S.-built Stinger missile found his right engine while he was flying at 150 feet. The aircraft started spinning, but with its left engine still working, Rutskoi regained enough control to clear the valley from where the missile was fired-but only until a burst from an antiaircraft gun sent the plane crashing to the ground in a no-man’s-land between mujahideen and Afghan Army positions.

His back was broken and his head and a hand were injured, but Rutskoi managed to crawl from his cockpit and see mujahideen and Afghan soldiers making for him as quickly as possible from opposite sides. An Afghan BTR got there first under heavy fire, some of which caught a captain in the back during the rescue.

Hospital doctors told Rutskoi he’d be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He began physical therapy three months later, using a course developed to prepare Soviet cosmonauts-and made fast progress. He was back in the air within months. Promoted to deputy head of Soviet Air Force training in late 1987, he planned to make himself eligible to join the top brass by enrolling in the General Staff Academy. But the following year he was sent back to Afghanistan as deputy head of the Fortieth Army air forces.


Tupolev Tu-16/Xian H-6



One of Russia’s first effective jet bombers, the Tupolev Tu-16 has enjoyed a frontline service career matched by few other types.

The Tu-16 was made possible by the development of the Mikulin AM-3 turbojet, which also powered the four engined Myasishchyev M-4 ‘Bison’. A prototype designated Tu-88 and powered by AM-3A turbojets flew for the first time on April 27 1952. A second, considerably lightened prototype flew later that year and the type was subsequently selected for production ahead of the rival llyushin II-46.

Early production Tu-16s covered by NATO’s ‘Badger-A’ designation include the Tu-16A nuclear bomber, torpedo armed naval Tu-16T and the Tu-16N tanker for other Tu-16s (using the unique wingtip to wingtip method). Of the ‘Badger-A’s, only Tu-16Ms survive in service, although over 100 Chinese built Xian H-6s remain in service.

The first anti-ship missile launching Tu-16 was the Kh-1 (AS-1 ‘Kennel’) firing Tu-16KS-1 ‘Badger-B’ with retractable radome (now retired). The Tu-16K-10 ‘Badger-C’ is identifiable by its large, flat nose radome housing the l-band ‘Puff Ball’ radar and carried a single Kh-1 OS (AS-2 ‘Kipper’) missile semi recessed under the fuselage (modified to Tu-16K-10-26 ‘Badger-C Mod’ standard it could carry a single Kh-26/AS-6 ‘Kingfish’). The similar Tu-16K-11-16 ‘Badger-G’ was developed to carry the 320km (170nm) range Mach 1.2 Kh-11/ Kh-15 (AS-5 ‘Kelt’). ‘Badger-G’s modified to fire the Kh-26 are designated Tu-16K-26 ‘Badger-G Mod’.

Many of the 1800 plus Tu-16s built were converted to Elint/reconnaissance platforms. The Tu-16Ye is an elint conversion of ‘Badger-C’s, as is the Tu-16P ‘Badger-K’ and Tupolev Tu-16P ‘Badger-L’, while the Tu-16R ‘Badger-E’ and Tu-16P ‘Badger-F’ are optical reconnaissance variants.

Finally the Tu-16PP ‘Badger-H’ and Tu-16RM and Tu-16KRM, both ‘Badger-J’, are EW jammers.

Xian H-6 medium bomber

In early 1956 the Soviet Union agreed to licence production of the Tupolev Tu-16 medium bomber (NATO reporting name Badger) in China. The aircraft, which first flew in April 1952 and entered Soviet Air Force service in February1954, represented the then-latest state of the art in Soviet bomber design. The Tu-16 had mid-set wings with moderate sweepback and conventional swept tail surfaces; the four-wheel bogies of the main landing gear units retracted aft, somersaulting through 1800 to lie in large fairings projecting beyond the wing trailing edge. The powerplant consisted of two Mikulin RD-3M-500 axial-flow turbojets with a take-off thrust of 9,520 kgp (20,990 Ibst) placed on the fuselage sides immediately aft of the rear wing spar so that the inlet ducts passed through the wing roots, the fuselage being ‘pinched’ in accordance with the area rule. The crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator/bomb-aimer (sitting in an extensively glazed nose), a dorsal gunner/radio operator sitting behind the pilots, plus two more gunners sitting in a separate pressure cabin in the rear fuselage. The defensive armament comprised three powered barbettes with twin 23-mm AM-23 cannons and a single fixed cannon of the same type in the nose.

The actual licence agreement for manufacture of the Tu-16 was signed in September 1957. Under the terms of this, China received two production Tu-16 bombers as pattern aircraft, a further two aircraft in the form of a semi-knocked-down (SKD) kit and a CKD kit, essential for mastering the assembly of the first examples, and a set of blanks and raw materials for parts manufacture together with the necessary technical documentation. All of this was supplied by plant No. 22 in Kazan’, the main manufacturer of the type.

In 1959 the decision was taken to begin licence production in China, and in the same year a large technical team left the USSR for China to assist in setting up series production. It remained in China until the autumn of 1960.

The Bureau of Aircraft Industry (BAI) allocated two factories in Harbin and Xian (sometimes spelled Xi’an) for Tu-16 production. A major reconstruction of the Harbin Aircraft Factory, in the course of which the shop floor area was doubled, began in 1958; the plant received assistance in the form of 200 qualified workers seconded from the Shenyang Aircraft Factory. In May 1959 the Harbin plant took delivery of the two Tu-16 pattern aircraft and the CKD kit, and assembly of a bomber from the kit began immediately. The first Chinese Tu-16 was assembled in just 67 days (28th June – 3rd September), making its maiden flight on 27th September 1959, and was handed over to the PLAAF that December.

In 1958 the large aircraft factory at Xian was completed, and to assist in Tu-16 production there 1,040 skilled technical and engineering staff and 1,697 other workers were transferred from Shenyang. In 1961 the BAI decided to concentrate all work on the Tu-16 at the Xian factory so that the Harbin plant could concentrate on the H-5; the transfer of production took place in 1962-64. The Chinese licence-built version was briefly designated Feilong-201 (Flying Dragon-201) but became the H-6 in 1964. The RD-3M-500 was built under licence at the Xian Engine Factory (with assistance from the Harbin and Shenyang plants) as the WP-8.

In 1964 the plant began manufacturing the jigs and tooling for series production of the H-6; new production methods differing from the Soviet ones were used, including explosive forming and epoxy resin male moulds instead of metal ones. In October 1966 the first airframe assembled from Chinese parts was finished, one year ahead of schedule; it underwent static tests at the BAI’s Aircraft Structure Analysis Research Institute in December 1968.

On 24th December 1968 the first Xian-built production H-6 bomber completely manufactured in China (with Chinese-made WP-8 engines) made its first flight The crew was commanded by test pilot Li Yuanyi, with Xu Wenhong as co-pilot After this, full-scale production of the H-6 in China got under way.

The reason that it took so long to establish H-6 in production in China was the disorganisation of the Chinese aircraft industry caused by the spread of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. A lot of design documentation was lost during the transfer of production from Harbin to Xian, and it took forever to restore it.

The London Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that approximately 120 H-6 bombers in various versions had been built up to 1987 when production was interrupted. It was resumed several years later.

The standard H-6 was 34.8 m (114 ft 2’Y64 in) long and 9.85 m (32 ft 35Y64 in) high, with a wing span of 34.2 m (112 ft F%4 in). The normal and maximum take-off weight were 72,000 kg (158,730 Ib) and 75,800 kg (167,110 Ib) respectively; the bomber could carry a normal weapons load of 3,000 kg (6,610 Ib) and a maximum weapons load of 9,000 kg (19,840 Ib). The maximum fuel load was 33,000 kg (72,750 Ib). The H-6 attained a maximum speed of 1,014 km/h (630 mph) at 6,250 m (20,500 ft), a cruising speed of 786 km/h (488 mph) or Mach 0.75 and a service ceiling Of 13,100 m (42,980 ft). The ferry range was 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and the combat radius was 1,800 km (1,120 miles).

H-6A nuclear-capable bomber

Even before production of the H-6 had been fully implemented, the modification of a Tu-16 assembled from Soviet parts into a carrier for the Chinese atomic bomb started at Xian under the codename ‘Mission 21-511′. The bomb bay was heat-insulated and air-conditioned to provide the correct environment for the nuclear weapons, the bomb release system was modified and the necessary monitoring and recording equipment for nuclear testing was installed. To all intents and purposes this aircraft was the counterpart of the Soviet Tu-16A. The modification work was supervised by Li Xipu.

The modified aircraft was the prototype of the nuclear-capable H-6A. On 14th May 1965 this aircraft captained by Li Yuanyi successfully carried out the third Chinese nuclear test, dropping a 20-kiloton atomic bomb over the Lop Nor nuclear test range in western China. The flight crew received a collective government award for this mission. On 29th September 1969, an H-6 bomber dropped China’s first thermonuclear bomb with a yield of 3,000 kilotons.

H-6D (H-6 IV, B-6D) missile strike aircraft

In 1975 work began on an anti-shipping missile strike version of the H-6A for the PLANAF. The carrier, given the designation H-6D (orginally H-6 IV), featured a missile guidance system, an automated navigation system and a new Type 245 surveillance radar in a much-enlarged flat-bottomed chin radome linked to the missile guidance system. At an altitude of 9,000 m (29,530 ft) the radar could detect a surface target with a radar cross-section of 7,500 m2 (80,645 sq ft) from a maximum range of 150 km (93 miles). The wings were strengthened for carrying two YJ-6L anti-shipping cruise missiles which were suspended on pylons resembling those of the Soviet Navy’s Tu-16KSR-2 missile strike aircraft.

The YJ-6L air-to-surface missile (export designation C-601, NATO codename CAS-1 Kraken) was developed in China from the HY-2 ship-/land-based anti-shipping missile – a copy of the Soviet P-15 supplied to China at the end of the 1950s. The missile was powered by a liquid-fuel rocket motor and fitted with a 513-kg (1, 131-lb) high-explosive warhead; it had a range of 120 km (74.5 miles) and a speed of Mach 0.8. The H-6D reportedly also retained a level bombing capability.

The first flight of the experimental H-6D took place on 29th August 1981 with Zhai Xijie in the captain’s seat. The first launch of a YJ-6L instrumented test round followed on 6th December; all four tests of inert missiles were reportedly successful. The test program for the aircraft and the ASM complex as a whole was concluded by live missile tests at the end of 1983. In December 1985 the new anti-shipping complex entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF).

In May 1985 the H-6D with its C-601 missiles was exhibited at the Paris Air Show.

Later, the YJ-6L was replaced by the more modern YJ-61 (C-611) missile which has a range of 200 km (124 miles). The export version of the H-6D was designated B-6D (B for bomber); four were supplied to Iraq.

The dimensions of the H-6D were identical to those of the standard bomber, and the performance was similar. Differences included a service ceiling reduced to 12,000 m (39,370 ft).