Over the past few months, we've written at length about the recent increase in flight activity by Russian long-range bombers, including their venerable TU-95 Bears.
Not surprisingly, the surge in flight activity is being closely followed by the intelligence community. We're told that the Air Force recently hosted the first-ever Russian bomber Tactics and Analysis Team (BTAT?) meeting at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. The forum was patterned after long standing tactics and analysis teams (TATs) that analyze fighter activity in other parts of the world. The very first TAT was convened in Europe during the early 1970s; since then, similar meetings have analyzed tactical activity in locations as diverse as China, North Korea, the Russian Far East, and even Cuba.
We're told that the spooks who gathered in Alaska view the jump in bomber flights as significant, but there's some debate over the threat such missions pose. In some respects, the Russian bomber force is making up for lost time; long-range missions against North America and northern Europe virtually stopped with the end of the Cold War. The recent sorties will help Russian bomber units rebuild operational proficiency and crew skills that were largely lost during the 1990s.
Thanks to budget cuts during that era--and force reductions mandated by arms control treaties--the Russian bomber force of today is a shadow of its former self, something that intel analysts can agree on. Still, the recent resumption in long-range in long-range flight activity is something that bears watching, as evidenced by creation of the BTAT.
As for a resumption of Bear flights against the U.S. east coast, analytical opinion appears mixed. Some experts agree with our position--a short-term TU-95 mission along our eastern seaboard is inevitable, allowing Russia to flex its military muscle, and send a political signal to the Bush Administration.
However, other analysts believe that Russian bomber flights in the coming months will follow recent patterns, with more profiles against Alaska, the north Atlantic (Norway and Great Britain), and possibly, U.S. installations in the Far East. They believe an east coast run will come later, after crews log more flight hours, and logistical arrangements in Cuba or Venezuela (i.e., fuel for the return flight) have been secured.