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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Tu-95 - Western Views

When President Dwight Eisenhower took office in early 1953, policymakers were not very concerned about the Soviet Union’s capability to attack the United States with nuclear weapons. The administration believed that the United States was well ahead of the Soviet Union in developing advanced bombers capable of intercontinental attack with nuclear weapons.

By 1954 Western intelligence believed that there was some evidence of the existence of a large bomber designated the Type 31. On the basis of present evidence, in 1954 it seemed highly doubtful to Western intelligence that substantial re-equipment of units with Type 31 class aircraft had occured at that time, though possibly 15 to 20 may have been introduced. Thc Long-Range Aviation re-equipment program to replace the Tu-4 was seen as more likely lo be accomplished by introduction of the Jet bomber aircraft which had appeared, and the Type 31 was no expected to be introduced in significant numbers. The estimated radius/range of this aircraft was 2,500 / 4,800 nautical miles, with a 10,000 pound bomb load.

CIA produced a special national intelligence estimate (SNIE) in 1954. In the SNIE, Air Force intelligence concluded that a turboprop heavy bomber would likely become the main element in the Soviet strategic air force, and that if series production began in mid-1953, 500 such bombers could be operational by 1957.

In April 1954, US military attaches observed a single Soviet all-jet bomber, the M-4 Bison, rehearsing for the annual May Day air show over Moscow. Air Force intelligence promptly shifted to the view that the Bison would be the mainstay of the Soviet strategic bomber force, projecting that 50 would be produced by 1957 and 250 by 1959. Production of turbo-prop bombers was largely dismissed. These projections appeared in an August 1954 SNIE.

Initial Bear (TU-95) testing occurred at Moscow Ramenskoe. The first public ehowing of Bear to Western observers took place during the annual Soviet Air Show at Moscow-Tushino on 03 July 1955. These were assessed as part of an experimental or limited production series. US intelligence indicated that approximately 15 Bear aircraft had been produced at Plant No. 18 by the end of 1955, with a production rate of approximately two aircraft per month. The production estimate of the production of Bear aircraft was not considered as reliable as the Bison production estimate.

A new SNIE, issued in June 1955, concluded that the Soviets could have 600 heavy bombers by mid-1958. These included 350 Bison and 250 TU-95 Bear turbo-prop bombers, which were first seen in a Soviet air show in July 1955 and were also assumed to be in series production.4 Meanwhile, the B-52 bomber was not yet in full production, creating what Congress began referring to as the “bomber gap.”

Up to this point, CIA bomber production estimates generally matched those of the Air Force, but this began to change in late 1955. When a new NIE on Soviet capabilities to attack the United States was completed in March 1956, ORR disagreed with Air Force’s future production rates of heavy bombers, particularly for Bear heavy bombers. ONE wanted to use a lower force projection, but DCI Allen Dulles objected to CIA challenging the higher Air Force production estimates. Nevertheless, the Army, Navy, and State Department all took a footnote stating that the number of heavy bombers could be far fewer than the Air Force estimates. In a new NIE completed in August 1956, the new numbers agreed to by the Community were 40 Bison and 40 Bear bombers produced by mid-1956 and a projected total of 500 Bison and 300 Bear produced by mid-1960.

The next estimate to address the bomber issue was NIE 11-4-57, "Main Trends in Soviet Capabilities and Policies: 1957-1962", completed in November 1957. By this time, CIA analysts had completed a detailed study of Soviet bomber production using additional serial numbers, newly available imagery from the first series of U-2 flights beginning in mid-1956, and a careful examination of production rates. The NIE avoided open disagreement in the main text by including both CIA and Air Force production numbers without departmental attribution and by presenting a range of the two estimates in an accompanying table. The lower numbers represented CIA’s estimate and the higher numbers Air Force’s estimate. The current mid-1957 force level was a range of 90–50 Bison and Bear heavy bombers, and the projected mid-1960 force level was a range of 400–600 heavy bombers.

The bomber gap began to fade as an issue in late 1957 as information became available that Bison production rates at Moscow-Fili were falling. A 1958 SNIE dramatically lowered the future Soviet bomber force projection to only 100–200 heavy bombers by mid-1960, adding that the Soviets would be likely to rely on ICBMs for intercontinental delivery of nuclear weapons by mid-1963.

In November 1959 CIA reported "It is believed that the Bear (Tu-95) heavy turboprop bomber was produced in relatively small numbers and that production ceased late in 1956 or early in 1957.... Production of the Cleat (Tu-114) turboprop transport is believed to be continuing at a rate of two aircraft per month at Kuybyshev Airframe Plant No. 18."

The aircraft displayed by the Soviets at their 9 July 1961 show included fifteen Tu-95 Bear aircraft, each carrying one air-to-surface missile. The missile was estimated to be the Cherub with a range of 350 nm [this poorly attested designator was later replaced with the KANGAROO AS-3 nomenclature], and a speed of MACH 1,5-2. The Bear required considerable structural modification to take the missile, and the bombing radar was replaced with a new type for use with the missile. The modified aircraft cannot be used as a bomber. Radius of the aircraft with the missile is about 4,000 nm. About 50 Bear aircraft were operational; however, not all had been converted as missile carriers. The appearance of Bear with a missile tended to confirm CIA's estimates that these aircraft were intended for stand-off attack of heavily defended targets.

The bomber gap issue was not fully resolved until the advent of US satellite imagery in the early 1960s provided much more accurate intelligence on Soviet strategic force levels. In fact, the Soviets stopped production of the Bison in 1963, with only about 90 bomber and tanker versions ever produced. Instead, the Bear was to become the mainstay of the Soviet heavy bomber force. It remains in service to this day, with over 500 bomber, tanker, and reconnaissance versions having been produced.

The President's Daily Brief of 27 January 1969 noted that "Seven Soviet TU-95 long-range bombers carried out reconnaissance flights against the west coast of Alaska on Saturday. None of the aircraft in this well-coordinated mission entered US airspace, but two of them approached to about 30 miles from the northwest coast of Alaska. These flights may signal the resumption of simulated strike missions against the northern coast of North America, similar to missions flown early last year by Soviet long-range aircraft."

Since the navy acquired Tu-95 Bear D long-range reconnaissance aircraft in 1965, American aircraft carrier transits in the Atlantic and Pacific were subjected to aerial reconnaissance. Bears and M-type Bisons of the strategic bomber forces had also been involved in reactions to carrier transits, notably in the early Sixties before the navy was equipped with the Bear D. Some of these operations probably were for training purposes, but many are flown to collect intelligence on the carrier forces. A typical reconnaissance of a carrier transit was performed by one pair of Bear aircraft, with another pair assigned as backup. Some missions included direct overflights of the carrier for visual and photographic coverage. In other cases the Bears approached no closer than 100 to 200 nautical miles, relying on radar and passive sensors for information. The Bear D is fitted with a variety of Elint (electronic intelligence) equipment). Aerial reconnaissance missions usually were not launched unless the approximate position of the carrier was known. The purpose of most missions was not to search the ocean for a carrier, but to define the exact location and composition of a carrier force previously identified by the radio direction finding network or other sources. The fact that these missions were almost always successful in "finding" the carrier, therefore, reflected the capabilities of other intelligence gathering systems rather than the naval air reconnaissance capability. An example of a true search mission by Soviet naval aviation occurred during "Exercise Okean" in April 1970. Six Bear aircraft performed an extended mission in the North Atlantic, sweeping from the Norwegian Sea to the vicinity of Newfoundland and the Azores. There were no carrier forces in the area searched, but the mission was seen as representative of the type of operation that would be needed to search for naval forces not previously located. CIA assessed that although targeting information for SS-N-3 firings can be supplied by any appropriately positioned aircraft,surface ship, or submarine, the preferred tactic involves the use of a Bear D to provide targeting data for a submarine located about 150 nm from the target. When possible, firings from two or more submarines would be coordinated so that the missiles arrive on target nearly simultaneously and from different directions. The Soviets used San Antonio de los Baños Airfield outside Havana as a base for the periodic deployment of Soviet long-range Tu-95 Bear-D naval reconnaissance aircraft. These aircraft, operating out of Cuba, collected intelligence on US military installations on the Atlantic coast and monitored US naval activities in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Two Soviet Bear D naval reconnaissance aircraft flew into Cuba on 18 April and again on 25 April 1970. This is the reconais-sance version of the TU-95 heavy strategic bomber. It appeared that these flights were connected with the Soviet naval maneuver, "Okean" underway in the North Atlantic. This was the first time since the missile crisis that Soviet strategic aircraft had been in Cuba.

In 1974 CIA asssessed that construction of the possible airstrip at Berbera stoppedafter 2,000 feet of grading in the fall of 1972. At Dafet,which will be the main Somali military airbase, work ismoving ahead on a runway in excess of 10,000 feet. Anairstrip of this length would be able to accommodate SovietTU-95 naval reconnaissance aircraft which have sufficientrange to conduct surveillance of most of the Indian Ocean. CIA assessed that the Soviets would probably like, at a minimum, to establish an arrangement such as they have in Conakry, Guinea, where they periodically deployed two or three reconnaissance aircraft and maintain some support facilities for them, but did not control the airfield. To get aircraft to Somalia, the Soviets would have to get overflight permission from countries such as Iran, Turkey, or Egypt.

US intelligence noted In August 1976 that the Soviet naval air force Tu-95 standdown in effect since August 5was terminated on August 24. This standdown was aboutone week shorter than those Of 27 and 26 days imposedfollowing Soviet naval Tu-95 crashes in July 1967 and May1971, respectively.

The Soviets used San Antonio de los Baños Airfield outside Havana as a base for the periodic deployment of Soviet long-range Tu-95 Bear-D naval reconnaissance aircraft. These aircraft, operating out of Cuba, collected intelligence on US military installations on the Atlantic coast and monitored US naval activities in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

An airfield with one of the longest runways in Central America was officially known as Punta Huete. Its presence is a little remembered but important legacy of the Cold War. It was constructed in the early 1980s—soon after the leftist Sandinista regime took power—with Soviet funds and Cuban technical assistance. Punta Huete was designed as a military airfield, with a 3,050 meter runway capable of handling any aircraft then in the Soviet inventory. It also had revetments for fighter aircraft. The status of the airfield and the possibility that Moscow might send jet fighters and other Soviet military aircraft there were key national security issues during the administration of President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989). As a result, the US Intelligence Community (IC) monitored Punta Huete closely, and the administration made heavy use of intelligence to support its policy of attempting to limit Soviet influence and military presence in the region. The airfield was never completed during the Cold War.

The US concluded that once the Soviets completed Punta Huete, its runway would be the longest military runway in Central America, one capable of accommodating any aircraft in the Soviet inventory. This included the Tu-95, which would then be able to operate in the eastern Pacific Ocean and reach the US west coast.

TU-95 Bear D reconnaissance aircraft periodically deployed to Angola and flew missions over the South Atlantic. US intelligence noted that Soviet Naval Aviation (SNA) continued to make up a substantial part of the Soviet presence in 1982. Deployment days fell moderately, however, with irregularities in deployments occurring in Ethiopia, Aden, and Cuba. The Soviet commitment to distant deployments was highly visible but represented only a small portion of total naval resources. CIA believed that Moscow was unlikely to undercut its readiness to perform high-priority wartime tasks in waters close to the USSR by significantly increasing the proportion of naval units operating in foreign waters. CIA believed the Soviets would continue to respond to situations involving fluctuations in the level of Western naval presence in distant regions and to pursue the operational and political benefits of new or expanded naval privileges in Third World nations.

Continuous SNA deployment to Cam Ranh, Viet-nam, consisted of pairs of TU-95 Bear D maritime reconnaissance aircraft and TU-142 Bear F ASW aircraft. The deployment pattern to Vietnam was stable in 1982, with the aircraft averaging about 60 days per deployment. The Soviets increased the presence of the Bear-D reconnaissance aircraft in Cuba more than 45 percent in 1982. Bear activity from Cuba was vigorous in 1982, with a record number of surveillance sorties against transits of US forces. Naval aircraft based in the Soviet Union also partici-pated in surveillance against Western naval forces inthe Pacific. The UnitedStates conducted an exercise in the Sea of Japan in fall 1982 involving two aircraft carriers. It attracted particular SNA attention -- the first use of an SNA Backfire in response to US carrier deployment and extensive flight activity by Bear F ASW aircraft for surveillance.

Izvestiya reported 24 February 1992 that in accordance with an understanding reached during recent negotiations in Moscow between B.N.Yeltsin and James Baker, production of the Russian Air Force's most powerful combat aircraft -- the TU-160 supersonic missile-carrying airplane and the TU-95MS long-range turboprop bomber -- was being discontinued. Both are strategic offensive weapons, as are the American B-2 supersonic bombers, production of which had also been halted. For many years, the TU-95MS was the basis of Soviet long-range aviation. This airplane, which was developed 40 years earlier, underwent modernizations and was being equipped with the latest systems. The TU-114 transcontinental airliner was built on its basis and used for a long time. The airplane's modern version, which was equipped for aerial refueling, was capable of being airborne for more than 24 hours, flying at a speed of about 850 kilometers an hour with 40 tons of combat cargo onboard.

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Page last modified: 25-08-2021 17:17:19 ZULU