So lately I've noticed that there is a lot of misinformation about the Russian and American intelligence flights that occur around the world. So I
thought I'd write a thread about their history, and what's going on during the flights. I'm going to focus on the American side, since I know that
side far better.
THE EARLY YEARS
After WWII both the Soviet Union and the US wanted to know what the other side was up to, but neither had the ability to do so with impunity yet. So
they began flying aircraft near and over each other's territory and ships. The US took existing aircraft and modified them into intelligence
gathering aircraft, usually using bombers to do it. One of the earliest examples was the RB-29, based on the workhorse of the Pacific Theater, B-29
bomber. Extra crew were added, along with sensors and cameras, and the aircraft flew missions near the Soviet Union. Later on, after the B-29s were
modified into the B-50, RB-50s were used. These flights flew into Soviet airspace, and encountered many Soviet fighters, with the loss of a several
aircraft, after they were shot down. Multiple types of aircraft were used, including C-130s, with many losses to Soviet fighters.
The US continued to use bombers and modified aircraft, until the development of the Lockheed U-2. The U-2 was designed from the ground up as a
reconnaissance platform to overfly Soviet territory and monitor Soviet nuclear tests. In 1960, on May 1st, Francis Gary Powers launched on a mission
over the Soviet Union in a U-2. He was shot down during the mission, and captured by the Soviets. This brought a major change to the overflight
activity. After the shootdown, US overflights of the Soviet Union ended, until a NASA ER-2 flew over Russia in the 1990s. Other aircraft used by the
US include the RC-135, based on the C-135 airframe. It is modified with cameras and other optical sensors, electronic evesdropping equipment,
equipment that can monitor radio and telephone calls, and radar monitoring equipment, depending on the version of the aircraft in use.
The Soviet government went a different route. They modified existing aircraft for the most part. The Tu-95 Bear bomber is a popular intelligence
gathering aircraft to this day. It has undergone several variations, as new equipment was developed and added to the aircraft. It wasn't until fairly
recently that they began using purpose built aircraft, such as variants of the Il-76
THE 70S AND 80S
By the 1960s both the US and Soviets were developing satellites with camera capabilities. These satellites really came into use in the 1970s. The
film canisters had to be returned to earth, but the satellites were able to fly over the other nation's territory with impunity until the film was
used up. In addition to this, the US continued to develop specialized reconnaissance aircraft. The SR-71 was developed as a replacement to the U-2
for overflights, but didn't enter service until after the end of the overflights. Instead the U-2 and SR-71 flew close to the border at extreme
altitudes, and used side look cameras to look as far into the Soviet Union as possible. In addition UAVs were developed that would fly programmed
missions, and be recovered by parachute to analyse the film on board. Flights expanded to Asia as well, over China. The US expanded the U-2 program,
training pilots from Taiwan to fly missions over China, losing several aircraft there as well.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the early stages of agreements were started to be hammered out between the Soviet Union and the US. This included
how fighters intercepted other aircraft, procedures for how tail guns on Soviet aircraft were to be stowed during interception, and various other
procedures. The attempt was to stop the shootdown of other aircraft, and loss of crews.
THE ADIZ ZONE
Airspace is laid out in various ways. In international airspace, there is no real control set up. It's too far for radar to detect aircraft
reliably, and radio is unreliable at the ranges involved. Any aircraft is essentially free to fly anywhere in this airspace. As they approach
another nation, they enter into what's known as the ADIZ, or Air Defense Identification Zone. This is where aircraft enter National Airspace. They
are still free to fly through here, but they require a flight plan and positive identification upon entering this region. Aircraft that don't meet
these criteria are intercepted and visually identified before being allowed to continue. After passing through this region, they enter into National
Airspace, where they are under positive control by Air Traffic Control.
THE INTELLIGENCE FLIGHTS
The intelligence flights that are reported on, are designed to test response time and methods, as well as gathering whatever communications and radar
data that they can. The flights approach the ADIZ, and enter into them. With no flight plan or positive identification, fighters are frequently
scrambled to identify the aircraft. AFter flying into the ADIZ, the flights turn and exit the airspace, returning back to their origins. Sometimes
when flying near the US, the flights are not intercepted, due to identification by other means, such as radar tracking from the origin of the flight.
While the ADIZ is techincally the airspace of the country it borders, it's not considered National Airspace, but a buffer zone around the nation. The
flights do not enter into National Airspace, but only into the ADIZ. A lot of information can be gathered by performing these flights, and it's not
required to enter into National Airspace to get the information.
edit on 11/29/2015 by Zaphod58 because: (no reason