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Tupolev TU-126 Moss

Throughout the Cold War the USSR remained behind its western enemies in electronic warfare equipment. The Soviets introduced the Tupolev Tu-126 Moss (NATO Designation) in the late 1960s for airborne early warning missions. The Tupolev TU-126 placed a large rotodome on a modified Aeroflot TU-114 Airliner, itself developed from the TU-95 (TU-20) Bear turboprop bomber first flown in the 1950s. The Tupolev Bear and derivatives have the distinction of being the fastest propeller driven aircraft in the world.

First identified in 1968, Western intellgence believed the Moss entered service in 1971, the exact number used by Soviet Forces being unknown. US sources estimated that only about a dozen of this aircraft were operational throughout the 1980s and the performance of its radar was regarded as inferior to American equivalents. The TU-126 has been assessed by Western sources as being of only limited capability, being unable to detect cruise missiles or small aircraft at low level. The Soviet Air Force relied heavily on ground based direction and radar stations and arrival of the Tu-126 did not alter this. The only point in its favor was its powerful jamming equipment.

The Tu-128 long range interceptor deployment was used to cover awkward eastern approaches to Moscow and to cover gaps toward the interior of the country. The Tupolev fighter was equipped to work with the Tu-114 (Moss) Airborne Warning and Control System. In effect, the radar-equipped AWACS extends the coverage of ground-based control radars. Activities of the AWACS indicated that it was deployed primarily to provide extended coverage of the Northern ocean approaches to the Western USSR. In general, these deployment patterns conform to the distribution of population and industrial capacity in the Soviet Union.

The Northern direction was the probable from which American strategic bombers would attack. Coverage by developing a continuous network of traditional ground environment of radar surveillance presented the most serious problems, since it required enormous financial expenditures and time. The solution was the creation of the mobile systems [DRLO - distant radar detection], placed on an aircraft.

The Tu-126 of course possessed far from all of the capabilities of the modern E-3A, but was rather intended only for the early radar detection of aircraft over the sea and submarines and determining their national affiliations. The transmission of data on the targets detected to air-defense command posts was accomplished through special radio-receiving stations. The Tu-126 was in essence none other than a flying radar that was not able to detect targets against the backdrop of the ground. These and other drawbacks were the basis for the actual curtailment of programs to create domestic DRLO aircraft systems in the 1960s.

The shortsightedness of the decision made in the USSR in the 1960s to freeze for a decade the programs to create DRLO aircraft is obvious. It should be said for the sake of fairness that scientific-research work on the creation of the basic elements, problems of processing radar information, determination of the reflective properties of the Earth's surface and the like was being conducted in those years at the initiative of the Air Forces, even in the face of limited financing. When common sense prevailed in the minds of the "powers that be," it thus proved possible to create a long-range radar-detection and guidance aircraft - the A-50 - in arelatively short period of time. The development of the A-50, as in the creation of virtually all prototypes of complex technical systems for military purposes, proved to have a revolutionary effect on the development of domestic science and practice.

Early in the 1980s the Beriev A-50 Mainstay began development to replace the TU-126 in service. The Tu-126 was replaced by the A-50 Mainstay during the last years of the USSR. A separate air squadron was formed on the Kola Peninsula, then transferred to the Baltic, and in 1984 it received new equipment based on the 11-76. The aircraft was designated the A-50. With greater capability than the Moss, operational examples began being fielded in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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