Russia Intercepts US Aircraft (Maybe) Spying on Moscow’s Newest Ballistic Missile Sub

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Russia Intercepts US Aircraft (Maybe) Spying on Moscow’s Newest Ballistic Missile Sub

A Russian MiG-31 intercepted a U.S. Navy P-8 Maritime patrol aircraft in Northeast Asia on April 21.

Russia Intercepts US Aircraft (Maybe) Spying on Moscow’s Newest Ballistic Missile Sub
Credit: Boeing

Russia scrambled one of its fighter jets to intercept a U.S. spy plane off the Kamchatka Peninsula on April 21 flying within 50 feet of the U.S. aircraft, Bill Gertz over at the Washington Free Beacon reports.

“On April 21, a U.S. Navy P-8 Maritime Patrol reconnaissance aircraft flying a routine mission in international airspace was intercepted by a MiG-31 Russian jet in the vicinity of the Kamchatka Peninsula,” a U.S. Navy spokesperson for the Pacific Command told Gertz.

The U.S. Navy said that the interaction between the Russian and U.S. aircraft was “characterized as safe and professional.” The U.S. Navy spokesperson elaborated:

 Intercepts between the United States and other militaries occur often and the vast majority are professional. For intercepts that are deemed unprofessional, the U.S. takes appropriate measures through military and diplomatic channels.

The intercept occurred near the Russian city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the region’s capital city making it likely that the U.S. Navy tried to collect intelligence on Russian submarines during the flight of the P-8 aircraft. (Russia conducted a number of military exercises in the region in April, which also might have been of interest to the U.S. military.)

The likely target of U.S. spying efforts was Rybachiy Nuclear Submarine Base, located only nine miles (15 kilometers) across Avacha Bay from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Rybachiy naval base is home to most of Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet in the Pacific including the Russian Navy’s new Borei-class (aka Dolgorukiy-class), Project 955, fourth-generation SSBN (Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) submarine.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet purportedly inducted the Borei-class SSBN Alexander Nevsky, the second vessel of the Borei-class (“North Wind”), last year. Another Borei-class SSBN, the Vladimir Monomak, is slated to join the fleet in the last quarter of 2016. Four more Borei-class submarines are expected to join the Pacific Fleet over the next ten years.

What makes the Borei-class such a formidable weapons platform is, among other things, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, the so-called Bulava, the new cornerstone of the sea-based component of Russia’s nuclear triad, as I explained previously in The Diplomat Magazine:

 Each Borei-class SSBN can carry from 12 to 16 Bulava (RSM-56) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)–a sea-based variant of the Topol-M SS-27–armed with 6-10 warheads per missile. Consequently, one submarine can carry between 72 to 160 hypersonic, independently maneuverable warheads, yielding 100-150 kilotons apiece. The Bulava missile purportedly has a range of over 8,300 kilometers (5,157 miles) and is specifically designed to evade Western ballistic missile defense shields.

However, there is rampant speculation among defense analysts whether the Bulava is, in fact, operational and whether Russia can produce the new ICBM in large enough quantities to arm its burgeoning fleet of Borei-class SSBNs.