Bears R Us

Author's Note: An error that appeared in the below text regarding Russian air-to-air refueling capabilities has been amended to reflect the author's (me, in other words) original intent. Apologies go out from Defense tech and the author for this inadvertent yet gargantuan transposition of terms. The corrected text appears below in bold type. Thanks.Taking a look at the picture to the right, you'd be excused if you thought it was taken in the mid 1980's.bear_watching.jpgIt was taken in Sept of last year and there are many more of these photos lately.A little less than a month ago Former Soviet KGB head and current Russian President Vlad Putin told the world that the Russians would, after a 15 year hiatus, begin long range reconnaissance flights again with their strategic bomber assets, most notably the Tu-95 Bear.Whether or not this will mean anything in the long term of geostrategic military hegemony or is just a flexing of an increasingly atrophied strategic recon arm remains to be seen. The Bear, however, is the characteristic icon of these flights, with US and allied intercepts occurring around the world - in the Indian Ocean, along the US east coast, in the western Pacific, around the North Cape of Norway and many points in-between.The Bear, first slipping the surly bonds of earth in the early to mid 1950's, remains Russia's premier strategic long range bomber. Powered by 4 BIG Kuznetsov NK-12MV turboprops (pumping out 14,795 shaft-horsepower (shp) each - by comparison, the C-130 and P-3 aircraft's Allison T56 turbo props generate only 4,600 shp each), the bug bomber can reach speeds up to 525 mph, making it one of the fastest prop aircraft in the world and definitely the fastest BIG prop-driven aircraft.Comparisons are somewhat moot with the US's aged long-range strategic bomber, the B-52, which was discussed here on DT with its upgraded avionics system. I say moot because while both are big and have a strategic use, that's where the similarities end!The B-52 has 8 Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofan engines, pumping out 17,000 lbs of thrust from each engine (compare that to the shaft horsepower of those Bear Kuznetsovs above). Those engines, as smoky as they are at times, can push the BUFF up to 650 mph.Ranges are somewhat similar, with the Bear reaching out to around 8,200 miles and the BUFF able to make 8,800 miles unrefueled. Both aircraft have air-to-air refueling capabilities, making their true range almost unlimited, Tu-95-Bear_6 tanking.jpghowever Russian air-refueling tactics, techniques and procedures are far below that of the US and her allies.There's not much on the unclass side regarding the usage of the big Russian bomber over the years, but it appears that it was never used in any conventional bombing roles, whether in Afghanistan or any other nation where Soviet/Russian hardware was employed. It appears it has been used strictly in a deterrence mode, oftentimes to let the carrier battle group know that it is targeted - after a fashion.There are about 71 scattered through out Russia (compared to 85 B-52s). Ukraine had some at the dissolution of the USSR, but transferred those back to Moscow as part of a debt reduction deal. India has a few, obtained in the late 80's for long-range reconnaissance and ASW. Like the BUFF, they'll be around for a while.Some good webpages to get more info are at Global Security and Federation of American Scientists.--Pinch Paisley

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