Tu-128 “Fiddler” BASES AND TASKS OF THE TU-128 REGIMENTS

The Tupolev Tu-128 ‘Fiddler’, armed with its four unique-to-type AA-5 ‘Ash’ air-to-air missiles, started to enter service with the PVO in the mid-1960s. By this time, the Soviet air defence force was just undertaking its seventh post-war structural reorganisation, the sixth such event having been completed within the period 1957-60. Both of these periods of reorganisation had been managed under the tutelage of the then C-in-C of the PVO, Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergey Biryuzov, and were considered to have introduced significant improvements to the air defence of the Soviet Union. Those changes introduced at the end of the 1950s involved a reduction in the overall area and extent of the boundaries of responsibility of the Homeland Air Defence Troops (Voyska PVO Strany). The new organisational structure more fittingly reflected these changes and eased the task of controlling air combat against aerial intruders in Soviet airspace, rather than being aligned with the boundaries of the military districts (voyenniye okrugy), as was the case previously. Instead of twenty major formations and units of Homeland Air Defence linked to the number of military districts, only thirteen formations were retained: two PVO districts (Okrugy PVO), five PVO armies (Armii PVO) and six PVO corps (Korpusa PVO). For the first time, the zones of responsibility of the restructured formations and units embraced the entire territory of the USSR and the vulnerable access points to the country.

The seventh structural reorganisation was directed mainly at regularising control within the units of the Homeland Air Defence Troops, with changes affecting control at the operational/tactical level (opyerativnyi urovyen’). PVO formations were reduced in number, albeit with an increased number of assigned personnel, and the ranking of formations was raised, while a programme of automation of the command and control process was set in train. Significant changes also affected the tactical level of control of the Homeland Air Defence Troops, and instead of individual air defence artillery and fighter air corps and divisions, mixed air defence units (smeshannyie aviatsionno-zenitniye korpusa i divizii) were created, with a regimental structure for all branches of PVO troops. Thus, two or three aviation regiments and one to three air defence missile regiments (or brigades), dependent upon equipment and personnel establishment levels, began to form part of a standard air defence division. The unified control of air and AAA resources which had been well tried in the Great Patriotic War at the operational level was now also being achieved at the tactical level. All the wartime established VNOS posts (Posty Vozdushnovo Nablyudyeniya, Opovyeshcheniya i Svyazi) were replaced by PVO radio-technical troops, operating a network of early warning and missile guidance radars, whereas the monitoring posts only provided visual air observation (vozdushnoye nablyudyeniye), air-raid warning (opovyeshcheniye) and communications (svyaz’).

It was within this new organisational structure of Homeland Air Defence that the first Tu-128s were delivered to the Moscow District of the PVO, the 14th Independent Army of the PVO, and the 10th Independent Army of the PVO. It was decided to equip 445 IAP with the Tu-128, then based at Khotilovo, this regiment forming part of the 2nd Corps of the PVO (2 Korpus PVO), with its HQ in the garrison at Rzhev. The adjective ‘fighter’ (‘istrebityel’nyi’) was dropped from the title of regiments that operated the Tu-128 after the adoption of a different level of equipment and personnel establishment (shtat) for this aircraft. So after receiving its first Tu-128s, it was the newly abbreviated 445 AP (445 Aviatsionnyi Polk) which relocated to its purpose-built base at Savvatiya to form part of the 3rd Corps of the PVO (3 Korpus PVO), headquartered in the town of Yaroslavl’. In southern Siberia the Tu-128 began to equip units of the 14th Independent Army of the PVO, the Army’s HQ being in the city of Novosibirsk. In spite of the fact that the Army’s HQ was located so far south, its zone of responsibility also embraced the vast territory of eastern and western Siberia, right up to the islands of the Arctic Ocean. The new interceptor equipped two air defence divisions: 33 Division of the PVO (33 Diviziya PVO), with its HQ in Semipalatinsk, and 39 Division of the PVO (39 Diviziya PVO), headquartered in Irkutsk. The first formation, 33 Division, had two regiments equipped with the Tu-128—64 AP at Omsk-North and 356 AP at Zhana-Semey. The third regiment, 350 AP, based at Belaya, formed part of the 39th ‘Irkutsk’ Division.

The most northerly situated major formation of Homeland Air Defence Troops was the 10th Independent Army of the PVO, with its HQ in Arkhangel’sk. The head of the 10th Army in the mid-1970s, Col. Gen. Dmitriev, described his subordinate units as comprising up to 100 AAA missile divisions, equipped with S-75 (SA-2 ‘Guideline’), S-125 (SA-3 ‘Goa’) and later S-200 (SA-5 ‘Gammon’) missile complexes, at the time the most modern systems in Soviet service. His fighter units consisted of 280 interceptors, including Su-9 ‘Fishpots’, Su-15 ‘Flagons’, Yak-28 ‘Firebars’ and, of course, Tu-128 ‘Fiddlers’, plus a squadron of Tu-126 ‘Moss’ long-range radar picket and fighter guidance aircraft (for airborne controlled intercept—ACI).1 The individual command posts of the fighter regiments and GCI stations were equipped with so-called ‘instrument guidance’ equipment (apparatura pribornovo navyedyeniya), a broadly generalised Russian term for what was, effectively, data-link control. Around 100 sub-units of radio-technical troops were equipped with several hundred radar systems of various types, operating in a variety of different frequency ranges. The 10th Army comprised around 56,000 personnel, including generals, senior, middle ranking and junior officers, warrant officers, sergeants and ordinary enlisted soldiers and airmen. Units of PVO radio-technical troops were deployed along the coast of the Barents, White and Kara Seas, on the island of Novaya Zemlya and the Franz Josef Land archipelago to conduct reconnaissance and provide early warning of flights by potential intruders into Soviet airspace.

The 10th Army’s zone of responsibility embraced a huge territorial expanse, from the borders of the USSR with Finland and Norway and along the entire northern coastline of Soviet High Arctic to the open surface of the Kara Sea and the North Pole. Falling under 10th Army control were the 4th, 5th and 23rd Divisions of the PVO, plus the PVO’s 21st Corps, with the Tu-128s of 518 AP at Talagi coming under the control of 23 Division, headquartered in the garrison at Vas’kovo (near Arkhangel’sk). The other northern Tu-128 regiment, 72 AP at Amderma, was subordinate to 4 Division of the PVO, with its HQ at Rogachyovo (aka Belushya Guba) on the island of Novaya Zemlya. The choice of base locations for the Tu-128 was not accidental but was determined by the importance of the task facing the Homeland Air Defence units. The main task of the ‘Fiddler’ during hostilities was to intercept missile-carrying bombers of the USAF, specifically the Boeing B-52 ‘Stratofortress’, before they were able to launch their weapons. Destruction of an intruding bomber was planned to take place at a distance of around 1,500 km (810 nm) from the coastline of the Kola Peninsula, i.e. over the open sea area of the Arctic Ocean.

A minimum of a pair of Tu-128s was required to achieve a 92 per cent kill probability against a single B-52. The number of interceptors could be increased depending upon the actual variant of bomber identified and its anticipated use of ECM. The kill probability for a single R-4 (AA-5 ‘Ash’) missile against the B-52 in the forward hemisphere was only 27 per cent. This seems extremely low by today’s standards, although it should be remembered that this would have been achieved at a significant distance from the launch boundary of the B-52’s cruise missiles. It must also be borne in mind that none of the interceptors of the 1960s and 1970s was capable of bettering or even achieving this performance.

In peacetime, the Tu-128 was also tasked with the interception and destruction of foreign reconnaissance balloons, known in Russian as ‘automatic drifting aerostats’ (Avtomaticheskie Dreyfuyushchiye Aerostaty or ADA), as well as escorting foreign reconnaissance aircraft in the 100 km (54 nm) exclusion zone off the coastline of the USSR. Additionally, they could be tasked with escorting and offering assistance to aircraft that had unintentionally violated Soviet airspace. Another supplementary task, during actual or simulated combat activity, involved the use of Tu-128s to clear (sanitise) the airspace and then escort Soviet LRAF medium and strategic bombers and provide top cover in their air-to-air refuelling zones. There was also an attempt to task the Tu-128 with the interception of the B-52’s North American AGM-28 ‘Hound Dog’ cruise missiles in flight. A research programme was set up by 518 AP at Talagi in the late 1960s with the objective of determining the possibility of intercepting and destroying ‘Hound Dog’ missiles after their release from the B-52. Maj.-Gen. Nikolai Skok took part in these trials as a junior officer and recalls the events:

A group of the most highly qualified and trained crews on our regiment was assembled, which also included myself, and was led by Colonel A. M. Megyera. The commission charged with undertaking the special trials was headed by the First Deputy Commander of the 10th Independent Army of the PVO, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Major General N. D. Gulaev.

The results of our intercepts of a Su-9, simulating the flight profile of a ‘Hound Dog’ missile, were not very encouraging: the radar cross-section of the Su-9 at closing speeds greater than 3,000 kph (1,620 kts) was less than the lock-on capability of the Smerch radar during a forward hemisphere attack. Lock-on was achieved too late and the range to the target was less than the minimum permitted for missile launch. After this disappointing result the order was given to study the possibility of intercepting the ‘Hound Dog’ using a rear hemisphere lag pursuit profile, since the missile’s speed exceeded that of the interceptor. The results were the same as before, although the crews who participated in the trials did obtain very useful practical experience of intercepting high-altitude, high-speed targets.

Following these trials, the plans to use the Tu-128 to intercept cruise missiles had to be shelved.

As already noted, the most vulnerable aerial approach direction over Soviet territory, which unquestionably called for obligatory and constant fighter protection, was from the north, representing the shortest distance between the USSR and the USA—the two superpowers of the Cold War period. However, in the mid-1960s, relations between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China had also deteriorated quite significantly, leading to the urgent need to establish another defensive sector focused on central China. Thus the fighter interceptor regiments of the 14th PVO Army would have to undertake combat air patrols in two separate sectors in the event of hostilities—in the north and along a central Chinese axis. The key installations which had to be protected by the 14th Army’s ‘Fiddler’ regiments were located in the vicinity of, inter alia, Novyi Urengoy, Surgut, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul, Alyeisk and Biisk. Between the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s it was believed that in the event of nuclear war, the potential enemy (at that time considered to be the United States of America and its allies) would carry out a strike in two waves:

•  an initial wave of B-52s with thirty ALCMs (Air Launched Cruise Missiles) and fifteen SRAMs (Short-range Attack Missiles)

•  a second wave of up to sixty-five B-52s with twenty ALCMs and 185 SRAMs.

It was expected that a strike deep into Siberian territory would be initiated some 7-9 hours after the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the likely launch boundary of American ALCMs being Cape Chelyuskin (Taymyr Peninsula), Kirov Island and Cape Sporyi Navolok (on Novaya Zemlya). The PVO’s fighter response would be based on these assumptions, and by way of example we list here the wartime tasks which would be carried out by the 1st and 2nd squadrons of 356 AP based at Zhana-Semey:

Wartime tasks of the 1st squadron of the 356th Aviation Regiment

The 1st squadron, comprising nine Tu-128Ms, in co-operation with the 2nd squadron of 356 AP and augmented by fighters from 849 IAP at Kupino in Novosibirsk Oblast, operating from an airfield QRA posture (dezhurstvo na aehrodromye)2 at Readiness 1, was tasked with the following missions:

•  prevention of enemy strikes on key installations in the Omsk and Novosibirsk industrial region and overflights by enemy aircraft towards key installations of the Kuzbass (Kuznetsk Basin) coal, iron and steel production area;

•  destruction of enemy aircraft along Defence Line No. 6, Bystriy to Ishim, and Defence Line No. 7, Zarya to Narym, at medium and high altitudes;

Additionally, to be prepared for deployment to the reserve airfield at Khatanga in order to:

•  reinforce PVO defensive capability using the regiment’s 3rd squadron and fighter squadrons of 849 IAP at Kupino, to neutralise enemy air power along the central Chinese axis from specific defence lines;

•  attack at medium and high altitude along Defence Line No. 12, Zharma to Gornaya Teli, from an airfield QRA posture at Readiness 1 and from airborne QRA (dezhurstvo v vozdukhye) in Zone Nos 3 and 4—see below;*

•  attack at medium altitude along the Defence Line No. 11 Kaskabulak– Nizhnyaya Tayinta–Novaya Shul’ba, from an airfield QRA posture at Readiness 1;

•  provide top cover for groups of forces of the Siberian Military District (Siberian Front) on their ‘route of advance’ between Biisk and Tashanta. In peacetime, the squadrons would be tasked with the destruction of military aircraft and drifting reconnaissance balloons of capitalist states if they violated Soviet airspace.

Wartime tasks of the 2nd squadron of the 356th Aviation Regiment

The 2nd squadron, comprising nine Tu-128s operating from an airfield QRA posture (dezhurstvo na aehrodromye) at Readiness 1, in co-operation with the 1st squadron of 356 AP, was tasked with the following missions:

•  prevention of enemy strikes on key installations in the Omsk and Novosibirsk industrial region and overflights towards the Kuzbass coal, iron and steel production area;

•  destruction of enemy aircraft at maximum possible range, before they could launch their air-to-ground missiles, operating either individually within a pairs formation or as two pairs using a forward hemisphere intercept profile at medium and high altitude along Defence Line No. 6, Bystriy to Ishim, and Defence Line No. 7, Zarya to Narym.

Additionally, to be prepared for deployment to the reserve airfield at Khatanga in order to:

•  reinforce PVO defensive capability using the regiment’s 3rd squadron and fighter squadrons of 849 IAP at Kupino, from an airfield QRA posture and from airborne QRA in Zone Nos 3 and 4;*

•  destroy enemy aircraft approaching from the central China direction along Defence Line No. 12, Novosibirsk to Gornaya Teli, and Defence Line No. 11, Ishim–Kaskabulak–Nizhnyaya Tayinta–Novaya Shul’ba.

*The regiment’s airborne QRA Zone Nos 3 and 4 were set up in designated airspace within the region of the towns of Yerofeevka and Aktokai respectively.

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